Autistic teen sinks 1,000th half-court shot
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — It’s like something from a sports movie: A teen in a basketball uniform makes an improbable shot, then gets hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates while the crowd cheers and chants his name.
But Nicholas Bennett, a senior at North Hall High School in Gainesville, Ga., didn’t hit a game-winning basket. His achievement last Saturday was even rarer. Bennett, who has autism, has served as the Trojans’ student manager all four years he’s been in high school. His duties include keeping the gym clean and making sure the basketballs are properly inflated. And for fun, he practices taking half-court shots.
He set a goal of making 1,000 such shots before graduating — a lofty goal for anyone, let alone a kid who is not an official player on the basketball team.
But he kept at it, and over the years teammates and coaches kept count as Nicholas came in early to shoot or heaved up half-court shots during practice.
When Bennett reached 999 made shots, coach Tyler Sanders put him in his first-ever varsity game on Saturday against rival Gainesville High. Nicholas scored the first basket of the game on an uncontested layup, then went to the bench and high-fived his coach to cheers from the crowd.
But the real highlight came at halftime, when he stepped to half court and began launching shots in his trademark underhand style.
On his third try, the ball sailed cleanly through the net. Number 1,000 was his. Bennett raised his hands in triumph, and the gym erupted in cheers.
In a storybook moment, he was lifted on his teammates’ shoulders to chants of “Nick! Nick!”
“This was such an exciting experience,” Bennett told the Gainesville Times afterward. “It felt like I was in heaven.”