City girl, 12, one of the best free throwers in Ontario

Lillian Bernard. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Opponents have to think twice about fouling Lillian Bernard on the basketball court — she’s one of the best free throwers in the province.

For three straight years now the St. Francois Xavier student has finished first in her age group at the Knights of Columbus Regional Free Throw Championship.

On March 2, she again won the Knights of Columbus Regional Competition. If her score holds up she’ll claim a second straight provincial title. She won the 2017-2018 Knights of Columbus Provincial title for the best free throw overall score.

Not bad for someone who didn’t pick up a basketball until three years ago.

Bernard, 12, was introduced to both the team game and individual free throwing by her gym teacher at St. Thomas D’Aquin.

She was hooked immediately, said her mom, Kim Pike.

“Lillian loves it so much,” she said. “She’ll go five days a week.”

In the competition organized by the Knights of Columbus, students grouped by age from nine to 17 simply shoot from the foul line for the highest number of baskets.

In early school-level rounds, participants get 15 shots. In district and regional showdowns it rises to 25 shots.

Organizers tally the top scores in each region to determine the best in Ontario.

In 2017, Bernard’s first year, she nailed 23 of 25 attempts in the regional finals.

She won regional and provincial competitions in 2018 with 21 baskets, and is now waiting to hear if the 18 she sank at regionals London was good enough for another provincial title.

Bernard says muscle memory through repetition – plus a little superstition – is key. Her routine involves three dribbles, a ball flip, and breathing timed to hip hop – her music of choice while practising.

“That works a lot for me because it gets me to think about nothing else except for shooting,” she said.

But there’s more to her game than free throws. In her first year, Bernard and her older sister Amber joined the Valhalla house league, and soon moved up to the travel team.

Today Lillian Bernard is the starting point guard on the Valhalla bantam girls U13 squad.

Coach Fred Sheane said she has a knack for the game not often seen at that level.

“There’s not a lot of Grade 7 kids that can handle the ball under pressure,” he said.

“Her sense of the game and her sense of spacing is second to none.”