Miracle Shot : Look Out, Magic, This Priest Is Deadly From Half-Court

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lakers discovered a real money player Wednesday night.

There's one minor problem: He's not on the team. He's a priest.

He's Father Bruce Correio, 35, of St. Genevieve's Catholic Church in Panorama City, and during a timeout late in the third quarter, Correio did something Byron Scott could do only once the whole series against the Chicago Bulls.

He made a three-point shot.

Using a half-hook, half-throw, the 5-foot-8 Correio made a 47-footer from half-court to win $57,000, the carry-over jackpot after previous shooters had missed.

"I was just trying to hit the rim," Correio said. "I didn't want to shoot an air ball and get booed by the crowd."

He missed. The rim, that is. He got all net.

"I was stunned," said Correio, who had trouble finding his seat after making the shot. "I couldn't focus on anything."

He should have no problem zeroing in on his paycheck--he became the third winner in three years of the half-court contest sponsored by a chain of music and video stores. Correio was selected from among hundreds who sent in entry forms to take one shot from half-court for the prize money.

He is no stranger, however, to winning money at the Forum. Last year, he canned four of five free throws in a different contest to win $4,000.

"I just hope to make this an annual event," he joked.

Correio shouldn't even be on the court. Two years ago, he tore a ligament in his knee and hasn't played in a full-court game since.

He nearly didn't make it to the Forum. Correio was not reached until late Monday afternoon by the Lakers. It seems they were about to give up and pick another entrant. He had just attended a funeral in Bell Gardens and had been back at his church only five minutes when the call came.

"If I had stopped for gas, I would've missed it," he said.

Yet once he was notified, Correio didn't waste any time. On Tuesday afternoon, he practiced shooting for an hour at Alemany High School in Mission Hills.

There, he found a technique. He realized a two-handed shovel shot wouldn't get to the basket, so he switched to a half-hook, half-throw. He was ready.

But the Forum wasn't. First, he was supposed to take the shot at halftime, but other court activities postponed it. Then he was told he would attempt it during the first timeout of the third quarter.

A red carpet was rolled out in preparation for the shot. But somebody forgot to notify the public address announcer, and Correio had to wait another 10 minutes until the next timeout. To make the shot, he first needed to calm down.

"I said a silent prayer," he said. "I just asked God to help me relax."

It was answered in front of 17,505 fans.

He said that after celebrating with his family, he will donate portions of his winnings to St. Genevieve's and to a church in Bell Gardens. He'll put the rest in the bank.

Correio's shot turned him into a folk hero, at least in his parish. On Thursday morning, dozens of elementary school students swarmed all over him with congratulation cards, asking for autographs.

Soon, the students begged Correio for a replay. So he took the basketball and fired it from long range on the school's playground court.

He missed.

"I can't make it," Correio said, "when there's no money on the line."

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