Riley Charlesworth said his younger sister Justene hasn't claimed braggin' rights in the household.
She has good reason to boast. The Wanatah sixth-grader is a national finalist for the NBA FIT/WNBA FIT Dribble, Dish and Swish competition. She competes for the age 11-12 title Saturday as part of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Fla.
"She hasn't said too much about it. I don't think she wants to jinx herself," said Riley, a junior at LaCrosse. "She has high hopes. I think we'll hear a little more about it if she wins."
Justene saw a poster for the competition while playing in a basketball league at The Fieldhouse-Merrillville.
"I wondered if I could do this," she said.
This is anything but an easy task. All competitors start off with a layup, then shoot a free throw, dribble through some cones, make a pass, receive a pass, dribble through even more cones then end with a layup. The entire process is timed. Missed shots are almost unacceptable, and any basketball violations (traveling, double-dribbling) adds penalty time.
"Making the free throw is probably the hardest part," she said. "You don't want to rush the shot, but you also don't want to take too much time shooting it."
Justene spent a lot of time waiting to hear back after the initial competition in October.
"I didn't really think I was going to make it," she said.
Then word came in early January that Justene had qualified for the Bulls Regional on Jan. 21 at the Bulls Training Facility in Lisle, Ill. Even with a win there, she would have to have one of the two best times nationally.
The next day, Justene's parents, Juli and Ray Charlesworth, found out the exciting news ... and they interrupted their daughter's lunch at school.
"At first she wasn't the most happy to see her parents at school," Juli said. "After the initial shock, she started jumping up and down."
"I couldn't believe it," Justene said.
Justene and her parents will be down in Orlando for the opening day's festivities. Riley, who has a boys basketball game against Kouts on Friday, will fly down with his grandmother Marlene Mitzner early Saturday morning.
Justene and Riley will attend both the slam dunk competition and Sunday's All-Star game.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Riley said. "I'm starting to realize this is a pretty big deal."
According to Juli, Justene is excited to have a chance to pick up some autographs during the three-day trip.
"She'll be able to clean up," Juli said.
Justene said she wants to win the competition, but Juli said that second would also be good enough for the family.
"We're so proud of her," Juli said. "The whole thing has just been outstanding."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at email@example.com.