DECATUR -- How do you shoot a free throw?

Everyone has their own style. Do you spin the basketball in your hands or maybe dribble it a few times before shooting the rock?

Devin Curry, Millikin’s senior guard and expert free-throw shooter, uses the same routine every time she’s at the line. 

“I’m kind of superstitious, I do the same routine every time I’m up on the line. Most players do the same routine,” she said. “I focus and flip (the ball) once and do a little stutter step and dribble it three times, take a deep breath and let her go.” 

After Curry lets it go, it normally hits nothing but net.

Last season, Curry was the best free throw shooter in all of Division III women's basketball, making 87 of her 92 chances.

Along the way, she also set a new Millikin record by hitting 31 consecutive free throws.

Big Blue coach Lori Kerans, an expert free-throw shooter in her own right during her time as a player at Millikin, watched Curry surpass her personal best last season.

“She’s broken a number of records including some of my own when I was a player here," Kerans said. "I think I was at 21 in a row and she’s already broken that once before.

"Devin’s an unbelievable free-throw shooter. I told her she was a little off at our game with Eureka College because her shot hit the rim once because normally it is absolutely nothing but net.”

But developing that shot wasn't just pure talent. Curry has reached this level through her hard work.

“Devin is absolutely a product of spending a lot of time in the gym," Kerans said. "Her shot, her athleticism, is because she works at it. We will come in here at night and she will be shooting and we will come in in the day and she’s shooting.

"She just loves to put on headphones and come in a shoot.”

When asked if she would shoot some more after the Big Blue practice was completed on Wednesday, Curry smiled and said said, "Maybe."

“I try to get in here and shoot a lot because that’s kind of my role on the team. I’ve accepted it and I need to follow through with my role on the team that I’ve been given,” she said.

Curry is soft spoken and the spotlight isn’t something she is looking to spend a lot of time in, but she knows as a team leader and leading scorer, averaging 21 points per game, it is her time to lead the Big Blue to bigger and brighter things.

“She has totally blossomed as a four-year player. Devin is our leading scorer and she is willing to, almost begrudgingly willing to, put us on her shoulders now,” Kerans said.

“As a freshman and sophomore because, quite frankly, she was raised so respectfully, she was deferring all the time to the older kids. She realizes now she is the older kid and she realizes that much of our team success is going to run through her.”

Along with Curry, the Big Blue have five other senior players, including team captains Emily Schultz and Sierra Birdsell, giving the team a familiar feel.

“We are definitely a veteran team for the most part. We know how each other plays and who needs to have the ball at what time,” Curry said. “We’ve played with each other enough to know -- so we’ve got that going for us.”

Freshman forward Jordan Hildebrand has also grabbed some minutes on the veteran team.  

“Jordan isn’t starting but she plays a whole lot, and she is going to be spectacular,” Kearns said. “She is not only a hard worker, she’s a sponge. She soaks up everything coach tells her in film or one-on-one work and she’s just phenomenal.”

These early games of the season have allowed the veterans like Curry to find a rhythm with their new teammates.

“We have some new players who are stepping up for us a little bit, so it was important to know and learn how they play and how to adjust to where they need the ball or how they play defense,” Curry said.

The Big Blue are off to a 3-1 start but its schedule gets demonstrably harder on Saturday as it begins its CCIW schedule by facing defending conference champion Wheaton College.

“No doubt Wheaton will be our toughest test so far this year,” Kearns said. “We hope that our pre-conference schedule prepares us but the CCIW is without question the toughest conference in the country so it’s really hard to prepare for the gauntlet that we are going to run through.”

Curry is confident in her team’s chances against the Thunder.

"Wheaton has the height advantage, for sure, but if we play our game we will be fine,” she said. “We just have to compete from the very beginning.”

Curry will bring another free-throw shooting streak into the game as she’s been a perfect 18-for-18 this season and overall, she’s made 24 straight since last season.

But she tries not to let the pressure of a new streak get to her.

“I don’t think about it until someone mentions it. At the end of last season I didn’t even know until someone came up to me and said, 'You know you are in the running for number one in the nation?' At that point I didn’t really want to shoot another free throw,” she said. “I just wanted to be done with shooting free throws, but I can get past it now and I can let it go.”   

As a motivation for the season, Kerans screened the movie "Hoosiers" for the team and they even took a trip to Indiana to see the famous gym from the film.

She sees a lot of the film’s hero, Jimmy Chitwood, in Curry.

“She is that very quiet leader. She’s not in the middle and she’s not going to say a lot but I’ll bet you at some point (Wednesday night) she got a basketball in her hands finding a rim someplace and shooting,” she said.

“Devin's just a true joy to have as a role model." 

mflaten@herald-review.com | (217) 421-6968

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