Actor who played Jimmy Chitwood in ‘Hoosiers’ made the most of his one big shot

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The man who made perhaps the most famous shot in cinematic hoops history never played high school basketball.

“I tried out three years in a row,” Maris Valainis says, “and I got cut three years in a row.”

But as Jimmy Chitwood in the venerated 1986 film “Hoosiers,” Valainis calmly sinks the game-winning jumper to give the Hickory High Huskers the 1952 Indiana state title.

Movie fans haven’t forgotten.

Valainis says he’s still recognized from his portrayal of Chitwood, whose shy, reserved personality is similar to his own.

“When I’m playing, yes,” says Valainis, whose picture-perfect shooting form can still be seen in Southland pickup games, “and when I’m out sometimes too.

“If I’m in a social situation, I’ll get a lot of, ‘You look really familiar to me.’ And then finally someone will figure it out, which is amazing to me that 25 years later people would remember.

“But I guess it was pretty popular.”

In fact, “Hoosiers” ranked 13th on the American Film Institute’s list of America’s most inspirational movies. USA Today readers voted it the best sports movie of all time and a 2008 AFI poll of 1,500 artists, scholars, critics and historians placed “Hoosiers” fourth in a ranking of greatest sports films behind “Raging Bull,” “Rocky” and “The Pride of the Yankees.”

It seems to be especially popular among basketball lovers.

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