ESPN announcer raises $75,000 for Special Olympics while making 2,400 free throws

Ben Weinrib
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Debbie Antonelli (right) has raised money for several foundations with her son Frankie (center). (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Debbie Antonelli has long been a good free-throw shooter, dating back to her days playing at N.C. State in the 1980s. This weekend she put that skill to its best use yet.

Following through on a plan made a year ago, the women’s college basketball analyst for ESPN and CBS organized an event titled “24 Hours of Nothing But Net” where she made 2,400 free throws in under 24 hours.

As first reported by The Post and Courier, the event, which started at noon on Saturday, raised $75,000 for Special Olympics South Carolina.

Antonelli kicked off the event with her son, Frankie, making the first free throw. Frankie is a Special Olympics athlete and just finished his sophomore year at ClemsonLIFE, which is a postsecondary experience at the university for students with intellectual disabilities. He also hit the final shot of the day at 11:47 a.m. Sunday.

“I got a little emotional thinking about how hard I trained and how long I spent in the gym and all the money we raised,” Antonelli told the Post and Courier. “It struck me in that moment watching Frankie and seeing how excited and happy everyone was. I’m motivated by a higher purpose.

“This was never about me, it was about Special Olympics. I think when you think about that and how it can impact people, it made me emotional. Frankie made the first shot and he was going to make the last shot. He is my motivation.”

All of Antonelli’s training paid off, as she needed only 2,553 attempts to reach her goal and at one point made 75 straight. Just as a comparison, the last time an NBA player made more than her 94 percent from the free-throw line in a season was Ray Allen’s 95.2 percent with the Boston Celtics in 2008-09.

Of course, as impressive as her accuracy was her stamina to make 100 free throws an hour for such a long stretch.

“I tried to lay down between 3 and 4 [Sunday morning], but I couldn’t get any sleep,” Antonelli said. “After I shot at 4, I took a shower and then missed 12 free throws, so I knew I had to get some sleep before people starting getting here later in the morning. I think I slept for about 15 minutes at 5.”

Beyond the free throws, the event brought in several speakers, including College of Charleston basketball coach Earl Grant, many Special Olympics athletes and executives.

With the budget for the Special Olympics under threat from the federal governmentprivate donations have surged with Antonelli’s program among the most recent successes.

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