Osman Palir stands at the free-throw line in the gym of the community center near his South Nashville home and watches the shot he has just released arc into the basket, barely disturbing the net.
"Forty-one," calls out his younger brother Suleiman as he returns the ball.
Osman takes three quick dribbles, regards the hoop and then swishes another free throw.
"Forty-two," says Suleiman.
That would be 42 swishes in a row. Osman hits another 20 straight before a shot finally rims out, eliciting a frown from his 15-year-old face. Then he starts a new streak that reaches 38 before he stops. "I try to make 100 free throws," he says.
Next, Osman puts on an even more remarkable display. Moving from place to place on the court, he throws in an assortment of shots. He hits several long rainbows from behind the three-point arc. He moves in a few feet and banks in several 15-footers off the glass. He steps into the lane and effortlessly swishes a few half-hook shots. Then he switches hands and swishes several more with his left. Then he crosses to the opposite baseline and hits five straight turnaround jumpers.
After each shot, Suleiman silently fires the ball back to his brother. He's no longer counting, but a visitor notes that Osman hits 21 straight shots before one finally clangs off the back of the rim. There will be 15 more baskets before the next miss. And then 19 more before the next one. Out of perhaps 100 shots, Osman misses eight. Only once does he miss two in a row.
Osman, whose family emigrated to Nashville from Iraqi Kurdistan a decade ago, is the best pure shooter you have never seen. Yet while Osman is literally a can't-miss prospect, his prospects of playing organized basketball, much less collegiate hoops, are slim.
Instead of playing for Overton High, the school for which Osman's family is zoned, he plays pickup games in the neighborhood. Osman and Suleiman are home-schooled by their father, who was a civil engineer in Iraq.
"I doubt my parents would let me play on a team because it would take time away from my studies," says Osman, who scored 750 on the math section of the PSAT last fall. "Studies come first with my family."
So Osman contents himself with a couple of hours of shooting most afternoons. When he's not shooting during what he calls his "activity break," you might find him in a three-on-three game with kids from the neighborhood.
For most players, to develop a shooting touch far less accurate than Osman's requires far more practice than he gets during his activity break. His skill is all the more remarkable considering that he never picked up a basketball before arriving in Nashville.
"I don't know how I got it," Osman says modestly. "It is a gift."
This afternoon, Osman, who stands at 5-foot-11 with his shoes on, has just finished torching four different teams of mostly taller boys. In each of the contests, Osman has done most of his team's scoring.
"He doesn't miss," says Derrick Avant, one of Osman's pickup teammates on this afternoon. "They'll be right in his face and it doesn't matter. He's just feelin' it. Every day he'll be out here, this little kinda white dude, schoolin' everybody. Two guys who play for MLK came one Saturday, and he shot 'em out. They started callin' him Larry Birdistan."
Osman, overhearing, just smiles.
Word of such a shooting prodigy gets around. Several AAU coaches have implored Osman's parentsin vainto let their son play for them.
"I heard about Osman from one of my players," says Tim Boguskie, who coaches an under-16 traveling squad. "I saw him not miss a shot for three whole games. It was like Jerry West. I mean, nobody shoots like that.
"I asked a friend who's an assistant at Duke to see him play. He said they'd commit right now to offer him a scholarship in three years. But Osman's parents won't go for that. They're determined he'll spend most of his time studying. Osman may go to Duke, but it will be for his grades."
Osman allows that the coach's prediction about organized basketball is probably right. "I will honor my parents," he says. "But I will keep shooting. I love to shoot."
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