After halftime of Wednesday’s OKC Thunder game, Pryor became home to the state’s second best free throw shooter, senior guard Thomas Ayres.
Before a crowd of nearly 19,000 fans, Ayres said one thought ran through his mind before taking the court.
“I thought to myself ‘just don’t go 0/20 Thomas,”’ said Ayres. “That’s all I kept thinking.”
The journey into the top-two competition began Dec. 22, at a regional competition between eight districts.
Coaches entered up to two players from each school within the districts thought to have the highest chance of advancing.
9 players from the districts were seeded prior to the shooting contest based upon 20 attempts.
Players shot in increments of 5, and Ayres was seeded No. 8.
Ayres won the regional competition, shooting 155/175 to claim the title and advance to the state shoot-off Jan 2.
The state competition was formatted the same as the regional, though Ayres said his nerves were more heightened than in the previous.
A 17/20 seeding-outcome placed Ayres fourth.
“I had a rough start and went 20/25,” Ayres said. “I missed three of the first 15…and that was the nerves.”
In the head-to-head competition that followed, Ayres faced the fifth seed, a kid from Broken Arrow. Both went 23/25, and a five-shot playoff ensued.
Ayres shot 5/5 besting his opponent’s 4/5 to get to the semifinals.
Ayres 23/25 (91/100 total) in the semifinals was enough to earn a trip to Wednesday’s competition during halftime of the OKC Thunder/Brooklyn Nets game.
“It didn’t really set in until I entered the Thunder arena,” said Ayres.
Between the time Ayres won the semifinal and the halftime championship shoot-off, the 17-year-old did practice shooting, only of a different sort.
“I went to a shotgun range with my brother and shot sporting clays.”
Once at the game, Ayres embraced the experience.
“I usually do well around people,” Ayres said. “I told my dad many times that night ‘I just cannot stop smiling.’”
The shooting format changed for the finals, in front of a packed crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The two players shot 20 times at opposite ends of the court, 10 attempts at a time.
Both players went 8/10 in the first round.
In final round, his competition goes 9/10, but the MC* mistakenly told Ayres he went 8/10.
Ayres then shot 8/10, a score he thought tied the contest.
“I turned around ready for overtime,” said Ayres. “Then I hear them announce the other guy the winner. It was tough to hear, but if I wanted to ensure a win I should have made them all.”
The Thunder gave Ayres two tickets to the game. His family and coach purchased additional tickets to support the latest pride of Pryor.
The entourage of support included his parents, Melody and Clark, brothers, David and Chris, sister, Sarah, grandmother, Julia, sister-in-law, Megan and coach Greg Arnold and family.
The trip to Chesapeake Energy Arena was the first for Melody Ayres, Thomas’ mother.
“He is so personable and always encouraging others,” (Melody) Ayres said.” He makes others around him feel comfortable while also being such a hard worker. To see him be rewarded for his effort was a real treat. He has already made this a great year for us.”
The Thunder is Ayres favorite NBA team, and Kevin Durant is Ayres favorite player.
Though he didn’t get to meet Durant, Ayres was allowed to view the game from the tunnel, an experience he said he won’t soon forget.
While most might rank such an occasion at the top of lifetime experiences, Ayres said it will mostly likely be included in his top 5.
At the top, Ayres places his faith and anticipates upcoming mission work with his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.
“The mission is the most important thing in my life that’s going to happen pretty soon where I’ll be leaving for two years,” Ayres said. “It’s a voluntary application process whereby young men are called to serve. I could be sent anywhere from North Dakota to Japan. This is about spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spreading the message to those I talk to. That ranks number one among things going on in my life…but shooting in front of all those people was absolutely awesome. I can say that I have shot on an NBA court in front of thousands of fans.”
Pryor Head Coach Greg Arnold said he is beyond proud of Ayres.
“Thomas is a very hard worker,” Arnold said. “Because of that, he has been the most improved player since eighth grade.”
When asked if Ayres is the team’s designated technical foul shooter, Arnold answered, “If he wasn’t before this, he most likely is now.”