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Greatest NCAA Free-throw Shooter of All-Time, Blake Ahearn

Here’s a name you might not hear everyday. Blake Ahearn played at Missouri State from 2003-07, helping lead the Bears to winning records in all four of his seasons. The guard, originally out of De Smet Jesuit in Creve Coeur, Missouri, holds the NCAA records for all-time career free-throw percentage at 94.7 percent and single-season of 97.5 percent his freshman year.

Ahearn attempted 460 free throws in his four years, sinking 435 of them. He shot at least 120 free throws in all but his sophomore year.

He was important scorer for Missouri State, averaging double-digit scoring all in four of his seasons. He was a good shooter, too, hitting 42.3 percent of his triples, including a 46.6 percent mark as a senior.

The guard went undrafted in the 2007 NBA Draft and signed with the now-defunct Dakota Wizards in Bismarck, North Dakota, of the D-League for the 2007-08 season. He featured in 41 games and scored 19 points per game. Ahearn also continued his prowess from the charity stripe, shooting 96 percent from the line.

His D-League performance earned him a shot at the NBA. He signed a 10-day contract with the Miami Heat in March 2008 to help with the team’s injury issues. In 12 games, he scored in double-figures three times and made 30 of his 31 free throws.

That offseason, he signed with the San Antonio Spurs as a free agent. He bounced between San Antonio and the D-League’s Austin Toros for a few weeks before being waived in December 2008. He rejoined the Wizards and earned a spot in the D-League All Star Game with 22.7 points per game and a 95.7 free-throw percentage.

Although he only played 19 total minutes for the Spurs, but he still remembers when Tim Duncan told Gregg Popovich to let the new guy see the floor

“Tim and Pop won’t remember that moment, but that was everything for me and my family,” Ahearn told Lorne Chan of Spurs.com. “The biggest thing I took away from the Spurs is how I was treated in the organization. I obviously wasn’t a big name guy, but from Coach Pop to Tony Parker and Tim, everybody treated me like I was one of the guys.”

In 2009, Ahearn moved on to Estudiantes Madrid of Liga ACB but only played in 13 games before coming back to the D-League, this time to suit up for the Bakersfield Jam, then finished the year with the Erie BayHawks.

Next season, he went back to Europe, this time heading to Italy to join Teramo Basket, but again his European stint was short, and before the end of 2010, he was back on the BayHawks roster.

Ahearn would spend the 2011-12 season in the D-League with the Reno Bighorns, dominating the league offensively with 23.8 points per game, 5.1 assists per game, and of course a 96.2 percent clip from the foul line. He was selected to his second All-Star Game and became the D-League’s all-time leading scorer after a 20-point performance put his overall total at 3,397. He would finish his career with 3,889 points and sat sixth in all-time D-League/G-League scoring as of Jan. 29, 2019.

During that same season, Ahearn also set an NBA and D-League record of 110 consecutive made free throws that still stands today.

After making his 103rd-straight free throw and continuing his streak, he said he approaches every free throw the same.

“I try not to think about it,” he said to NBATV. “My mindset is the same every time I go to the line, whether I’ve made 100 in a row or missed 100 in a row. It’s to make the next one.”

His season raised enough eyebrows for another NBA contract, this time with the Utah Jazz in April 2012. The Jazz made the 2012 NBA Playoffs as the eighth seed in the West, and Ahearn featured in three games in the team’s first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

Ahearn signed with the Indiana Pacers in the offseason but only lasted until October before being waived. From there, he went overseas to join with the Dougguan Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

After a season there, he bounced to BC Budivelnyk in the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague for the 2013-14 campaign and helped the club win the 2014 Ukrainian SuperLeague title and the 2014 Ukrainian Cup.

To start the 2014-15 season, Ahearn went to Capitanes de Arecibo in Puerto Rico, but he was soon back in the D-League playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors. He only played in nine games, but he was around just in time to win the 2015 D-League Championship. It would be the final season of his playing career.

Ahearn moved to coaching following his stint in Santa Cruz, coaching high school ball at Clayton High School and his alma mater De Smet Jesuit High School, both in St. Louis, for two years. In 2017, the Spurs organization welcomed him back, hiring him as head coach of the Austin Spurs, the rebranded version of the same team he played for roughly a decade earlier.

coach blake ahearn

“The opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime,” he said to Spurs.com. “I’m extremely grateful and at the end of the day, I want to be the best that I can be. To work with Coach Pop and the Spurs organization, I’m going to ask as many questions as I can until they tell me to quit bugging them.”

He took immediate advantage of the opportunity. The coach led Austin to a 32-18 record and Southwest Division title, then navigated the postseason for the 2018 G-League Championship with a 2-0 triumph over Raptors 905 in the finals.

“It’s not what we do, but how we do it,” Ahearn told his players in the locker room after winning the title. “You guys have done that on and off the floor. You guys did a hell of a job all year. Each one of you sacrificed something for one of your teammates, and that led you guys to this. It’s rare in this league to do that, and that’s a testament to you. I’ve said it before, we say it all the time as coaches: it’s an honor and a privilege to coach this group.”

As of Mar. 7, 2019, Ahearn’s Spurs are 17-25 and ninth in the Western Conference.

Update: Ahean’s Spurs finished the 2018-19 season 20-30 and in 10th place in the Western Conference.

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