How could it be? The actor who played Hickory High superstar Jimmy Chitwood in Hooisers never even played high school basketball? And he was cut three times? The man had perfect shooting form. Picture-perfect, I-want-to-teach-my-kid-to-shoot-like-that form, and he was cut three separate times. It doesn’t even make sense. It boggles the mind.
But it’s true.
“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.”
Did you realize Jimmy Chitwood only spoke four times in the entire movie? Me neither. It seemed like more, because he was always draining jumpers. But the perfect Jimmy Chitwood almost wasn’t even chosen for the role.
Valainis was a Purdue student in 1985, spending the summer at home in Indianapolis, when a “Hoosiers” casting director spotted him playing basketball and asked him to audition.
Showing up at an open call the next day, he stood last in a line of about 600 would-be actors and was about to leave until the casting director noticed him and pulled him inside.
“I dribbled a few times, shot a few shots,” Valainis says, “and he says, ‘Why don’t you come down tomorrow and read some lines?’ If I wouldn’t have walked in when I did and he wouldn’t have walked out when he did, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Valainis, nearly 6 feet 3, isn’t exactly sure why he landed the role but notes, “It was probably a look more than anything, and I could play halfway decently, I guess.”
What’s Valainis up to now? Working as a construction consultant, after his attempt to become a big-screen star failed. The actor who played Jimmy Chitwood, a construction consultant who wasn’t even talented enough to play high school basketball. Imagine that.
Never mind what Valainis is doing now, though. He will always be Mr. Chitwood to me.