NCAA ALL TIME RECORDS:
HIGHEST CAREER PERCENTAGE:
MOST CONSECUTIVE MADE IN A SEASON: 98
HIGHEST SINGLE SEASON FT PERCENTAGE: 100%
Take a large portion of parent support and love, mix it with some talent and a dash of cockiness, pour in hours of practice and a little luck, and you have the recipe that Paul Cluxton says made him the best free throw shooter ever known.
A four-sport star at Lynchburg-Clay High School who specialized in basketball and baseball, Cluxton went on to Northern Kentucky University where he led the Norse to back-to-back NCAA Division II national runner-up finishes in 1996 and 1997.
He was a great shooter from anywhere who had seemingly limitless range, but is undoubtably best known for his free throw shooting accuracy.
During his senior season at NKU, Cluxton made 94-of-94 free throw attempts and he ended his collegiate career having made 98 straight free throws, both NCAA records for any division.
When he was 8, Cluxton said, his father entered him in an Elks Hoop Shoot Contest. He finished third in the nation and was addicted.
"I was shooting more free throws in a day than most kids shoot in a summer," Cluxton said this week. "I would celebrate a win by going home and shooting 500 free throws. I don't know if you've ever shot 500 free throws, but when you're 9 years old, it's an awful lot. A year ago I wanted to see how many I could make without a miss. It turned out to be 200 and that 200 took me about an hour, then I had to go to work."
Cluxton said a broken ankle he suffered during open gym after his sophomore year at NKU put him over the top as a free throw shooter. Not able to do much else, and not someone able to sit still long, he shot constantly. He improved from an 86-percent free throw shooter his first two years at NKU to almost perfect from then on.
To this day he still shoots free throws, traveling to camps each summer to give youngsters tips.
"I tell them I'm the best in the world," Cluxton said. "I'm the only one who never missed a free throw in a whole season and I'm the only one who ever made 98 in a row. I talk about the influence of my parents and God. I strive, in some small way, to have a positive influence on the lives of the young people that I talk to."
The son of Dean and Shirley Cluxton grew up in a family of fiercely competitive athletes with two older brothers.
"I don't remember anything about my youth when I was little, except playing sports," Cluxton said. "I had a lot of baseballs, basketballs, footballs, and a few army men."
His first real athletic memory comes from when he was 3, using a clothes hanger for a basket and playing against his 14-year-old brother. He said he didn't win much, but might have learned something.
"If you lose your first 150 games, you learn you've got a lot of work to get done," Cluxton laughed.
As for organized athletics, they started when he was 5 with his dad coaching his basketball team at the Wilmington YMCA. That was followed by T-ball at Denver Williams Park in Wilmington.
At Lynchburg-Clay, Cluxton played basketball, baseball, soccer and golf. In basketball, he was a three-time All-Ohio selection and the 1993 Division IV Ohio Player of the Year. He is the school's all-time leading scorer with 2,111 points (29th on Ohio's all-time list) and in his senior season led the Mustangs to a 24-2 record and a spot in the state tournament. In baseball, he was a two-time All-Ohioan and played on four Southern Hills League championships teams.
He said his real athletic future may have been in baseball, but basketball was what he loved.
While his family never left him short of confidence, Cluxton said he first realized he might have exceptional talent when he went to a University of Kentucky basketball camp after the seventh grade. He was taller than most all kids his age at 6-1 and won six of the camp's eight contests. About the same time he started pitching for Knuckles, a select baseball team out of Cincinnati, and posted a 19-1 record.
That was the beginning of a career that Cluxton said blossomed with all the coaching and support he had along the way.
One of his favorite memories, Cluxton said, is reaching the state tournament.
"I'm not a big-time emotional guy, but that was something that stuck out to me," Cluxton said. "I was just chasing what my dad had done. He got to the regional tournament, and I wanted to go a little farther. He scored 50 points in a game, so I went out and scored 53."
Maintaining L-C tradition by winning four straight SHL baseball titles that followed back-to-back titles before he arrived on the scene, and winning a gold basketball for going undefeated in the SHL his senior basketball season also stand out, Cluxton said, along with the excitement and support at L-C, playing in two national championship games, being named an All-American his senior season at NKU and the free throw records.
If there were a couple things he could change, he said he would take a few less 23-foot jumpers in the state semifinals, settling for shorter shots that he feels would have led to a win. Then there's the last game of his collegiate career, an NCAA championship game where the Norse had the ball out of bounds, down one point with seconds left. He passed up an 8-footer with a couple defenders on him for a jumper for an open teammate that missed its target.
"I wish I would have taken that shot," Cluxton said.
Yet for every chance missed, he said there are priceless memories of untold numbers that helped him find the path to success.
After teaching school the first two years out of college, Cluxton has been at McCluskey Chevrolet in Cincinnati the past 11 years and is now sales manager. He is married to his NKU sweetheart and has six children, ages 20, 9, 7, 5, 3 and 1.
"It never occurred to me that I wouldn't get a scholarship in something. You get told that so many times and you believe it. That's just confidence through the people that love you, and probably part of why all that happened," said Cluxton, also giving credit to God, his parents, coaches and teammates along the way, and luck. "The most important piece of it all is that you can't replace good parents. My God, they never missed a game, ever. Florida, California, you name it, they never missed a game.
"They set me up for success."