Tony Crews had already made the varsity crew.
And the sophomore guard's 6-of-6 foul shooting in the fourth quarter that helped secure visiting Grayslake Central's 56-46 win over Antioch on Saturday was further proof of his poise and skill set.
But, oh, that first free throw in practice. He and his teammates can laugh about it now.
Just weeks before the start of the season, during the Rams' "pressure free throws" drill (a one-and-one), the sharpshooting Crews fired up an air ball. That meant each of his varsity teammates had to run a 30-second ladder. If a player misses the second, after making the first, the Rams have to run just an up-and-down.
"They don't mind the up-and-down, but they hate the ladder," coach Kosta Kougias said after his Rams improved to 3-5 and 2-1 in the Northern Lake County Conference. "So there's a lot of pressure. ... Tony was one of the last shooters, so they were beat. And they let him know."
Consider it tough love.
"We gave him a really hard time," senior point guard Sidney Goodman said with a laugh. "Last year we had a really good free-throw-shooting team. Then this year we were doing really well, and Tony goes out and air balls two. So we were just trying to work with him and get his confidence up."
That's right, two air balls.
The next day at practice, Kougias gave Crews a chance to redeem himself. And the varsity rookie jacked up another air ball.
Then the nerves vanished. Crews' next 2 free throws?
"He knocked down both," Kougias said. "And he's been knocking them down since."
"I try to work on those in practice, and obviously that first time wasn't very good," Crews said. "It was embarrassing, but I got a chance at redemption, so it was a teaching lesson. I just learn from it."
Crews can stroke the basketball, and so can his teammates. Against Antioch (2-5, 1-2), seven Rams sank one 3-pointer. Kougias played nine guys, and all nine scored. Alec Novak had a team-high 12 points, while Crews came off the bench to add 11. Goodman and Jack Spalding (11 rebounds) each had 7 points.
"We've talked about having a much-deeper bench this year," Kougias said. "We're a little bit smaller than we've been in years past. We got a lot of guards and we got some guys that play out of position, but they play big. We've got enough guys where we can mix and match and see what's working that night."
Grayslake Central's 3-pointers came from Novak, Goodman, Crews, Spalding, Justin Shepley, Billy Drevline and Clay Stoffel.
"That's hard to adjust to," Antioch coach Jim White said. "We were like, 'If we have to adjust to it, we will. We won't help as much on the back screen and we'll be there to close out on it.' But seven different guys (hitting 3s), you don't see that often."
Reece Eldridge had a game-high 15 points and 5 rebounds for Antioch, which led 19-17 after Branden Gallimore swished a pair of free throws with 3:57 left in the first half. But Grayslake Central then went on a 14-0 run that included 3-pointers by Shepley and Crews and a pair of baskets inside by Ryan Spicer (6 points, 5 rebounds).
Dan Filippone (10 points) scored off an inbounds pass to get Antioch within 31-21 at halftime.
"We always tell the guys, 'You can't win a game in a stretch like that, but you can't lose one,' " White said. "That's what happened to us."
Balanced scoring has been a staple for Grayslake Central, which has back-to-back wins for the first time.
"That's what we try to focus on," Goodman said. "It's not about one person. We just want to play as a team."