David Ramsey: Ashten Prechtel developing into bright basketball star at Discovery Canyon

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Photo - Air Academy senior Katelin Gallegos (11) defends against Discovery Canyon sophomore Ashten Prechtel (50) in the fourth quarter. The Air Academy Kadets hosted the Discovery Canyon Thunder in girls' basketball on Friday, January 27, 2017 at Air Academy High School. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing
Air Academy senior Katelin Gallegos (11) defends against Discovery Canyon sophomore Ashten Prechtel (50) in the fourth quarter. The Air Academy Kadets hosted the Discovery Canyon Thunder in girls' basketball on Friday, January 27, 2017 at Air Academy High School. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing

A basketball star, a bright and lasting one, is starting to shine on the far north edge of Colorado Springs.

Ashten Prechtel is a 6-foot-5 redhead junior for Discovery Canyon’s team who towers over her teammates and her opponents and her coach. And, yes, over the sports columnist who asks her questions.

But she’s more than just tall. She shoots 3-pointers. She tosses no-look passes. She dribbles against pressure. She’s imaginative. She’s ambitious.

She’s on her way to big things.

She wants to fully explore the court, and her potential, and refuses to be solely defined as a tall young lady who lives in the lane.

“I don’t like it when people just focus on my height,” she says. “I don’t want that to define me. I don’t want to just be good because I’m tall, you know.”

She’s still developing, not yet the ultra-dominating player she will become. She averages 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for Discovery Canyon. She’s sometimes radiantly brilliant and sometimes surprisingly silent.

Heath Kirkham, DC’s first-year coach, understands the expectations that follow Prechtel. Kirkham emphasizes Prechtel is a work-in-progress.

“She’s still young,” Kirkham says. “Everybody thinks that at 6-foot-5 and with the ability that she has that she should be a lot better at this point, but she’s still a youngster.”

Here’s the complexity of the situation: The player who Prechtel will become – versatile and daring – often clashes with the dominating player Prechtel could be right now.

Air Academy senior star Katlyn Blacksten has known Prechtel for years. When Prechtel was in the eighth grade, and already stood 6-3, she made a surprise announcement.

Prechtel told Blacksten she wanted to play point guard in college.

Blacksten laughed, but Prechtel was serious.

Last week, Prechtel and DC lost at Air Academy. Prechtel, as always, enjoyed a serious height advantage, but seldom shot in the lane and finished with only five points.

“She doesn’t seem to really like to play in the post, but I think she would be really deadly if she did,” Blacksten says.

Kirkham gently pushes Prechtel to spend more time in the area directly around the basket. He wants her to combine a fierce, don’t-mess-with-me physicality with her quest for versatility.

He understands a simple yet precious truth about Prechtel, a realization Prechtel has yet to fully grasp.

“Nobody else has 6-foot-5,” Kirkham says. “Nobody.”

Colleges have noticed 6-foot-5. Coaches all over America want Prechtel to  set up residency on their campus. UCLA, Texas and Missouri lead her list. She plans to depart Colorado for college, but will consider CU if she remains near home.

She cherishes competing with her current teammates. She’s a strong student and plays volleyball, the rare four-star recruit who competes in a second sport for fun and camaraderie. She wants to grab every title possible in Colorado high school basketball.

But her mind is on tomorrow, too. She looks toward the day when she competes alongside other tall teammates, the day when she fully displays her array of skills.

“I’d like to be able to play everywhere, honestly,” she says. “I like the inside sometimes, but it’s a lot of pushing. Everyone sees that I’m tall and they stick me down in the post. I don’t want to be pinned there because of  my height.”

Against Air Academy, Prechtel’s offensive game never quite clicked as she struggled against myriad defenders/stalkers.

But she offered a stunning glimpse of her might to open the third quarter when Air Academy shooters recklessly abandoned their strategy of avoiding her at all costs. Kadet shooters kept challenging her in the lane, and Prechtel kept reminding everyone she’s a quick, agile, determined player who stands a full and intimidating 6-5. She blocked four shots in 34 seconds in a sequence remindful of King Kong swatting irritating airplanes from atop the Empire State Building.

She remains a reluctant ruler of the lane. She wants to roam the outer reaches of the court, where she can savor the finer points of the game.

She’s still finding her way.

Still exploring the vast expanse of her potential.