Not throwing away his big shot

Not throwing away his big shot

Bagging $10,000 for a halfcourt shot gave Austin Triplett a chance to invest in the future — not just for himself but for young children in Mexico.

The University of Illinois freshman made headlines last February when he swished a halfcourt shot during a break in the Illinois-Purdue basketball game.Blog Photo

Triplett and his fellow Orange Krush friends had joked about getting selected, but “we never thought we’d get picked,” he said. “It was a little surreal.”

He was notified by text just before halftime, then waited in the tunnel until he was pulled out onto the court during a second-half timeout.

“I was more excited than nervous,” he said. “I’ve played ball my whole life. I knew I could make the shot.”

Turns out he had played varsity ball for Dunlap High, near Peoria, and was known as “the one who made halfcourt shots.” His coach made all the players try one before every game and buy Gatorade for the team if anybody sank one.

Triplett, who also plays intramural ball now, figured his odds at the Illini game were 50-50 — despite not getting a warm-up shot.

“It was just, go out there and shoot it,” he said. “I was just thinking, ‘Make sure to get it to the rim.’”

He let it fly. Nothing but net.

“I thought it was short at first, but then it went in perfectly,” he said.

As the fans erupted, Triplett ran around the court with his arms in the air, Blog Photohigh-fived the cheerleaders and pumped up the crowd (to no avail, as the Illini lost 93-86). He also posed for a courtside photo with his parents, Matt and Kristi Triplett.

He said the $10,000 prize was “a good amount of money” for a college student, and being a finance major, he decided to invest it.

But he also had another plan.

An opportunity had come up to volunteer for two months at the Casa Vida y Esperanza orphanage in Magdelana, Mexico, for the summer, about two and a half hours south of Tucson. He decided to sign up.

“I just kind of figured that God might have given me this money so I could take the summer off and not have to worry about making money,” said Triplett, now a UI sophomore. “It was kind of like my last free summer before I had to go into the real world and start looking for an internship.”

Triplett had also volunteered for a week at the orphanage during high school with the Bible class from his Peoria church.

The orphanage runs a “joy camp” for about 40 children, both residents of the orphanage and others from “pretty rough backgrounds” who are abused or neglected.

“They don’t really know how to deal with their emotions,” he said. The camp helps them work through those emotions and “just build joy in their lives.”

Triplett worked at the camp from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, in between mowing and other landscaping duties.

“It was pretty special,” he said. “The kids start to open up more and share a little bit about their lives as you get to know them.

“Just seeing those kids and being able to interact with them was a special feeling, to get to know you’re making a difference in someone’s life,” he said.

He remembers in particular taking one bright young boy out to a burger place in town, where they talked about their lives and plans for the future.

“He shared with me how he hopes and dreams to go to college and then become a lawyer,” he said.

Triplett’s mom initially was nervous about him being so far away.

“After she saw what I was doing down there, and the difference I was making in those kids’ lives, she warmed up to it,” he said.

Triplett also made new friends with the other 12 volunteers, from Illinois, Indiana, Arizona and elsewhere.

This summer, Triplett, 20, will be an intern for State Farm’s real estate and investment group. After graduation, he hopes to go into real estate investing.

But he added, “I’ll probably try and get back down to Mexico as much as I can.”

In the meantime, he’s part of Orange Krush again this season. And he’s ready for another halfcourt shot.

“I’m hoping they pick me again,” he said.

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Julie Wurth writes a column about kids and family life and covers the UI for News-Gazette Media. Contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or on Twitter (@jawurth)

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