By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Thank God Ashley King doesn’t play basketball the way she takes care of her room.
“She has her messy days,” roommate and teammate Kier-stan Barbee said of the tidiness issue in their Gardner Hall dorm room.
But messy days come as a rarity for the true freshman on the basketball floor.
“She’s very much a perfectionist on the floor,” interim head coach Shawna Lavender said of the sharp-shooting guard from Weatherford. “She’s one of the most intense players I’ve been around. In the stretch, she’s someone to depend on and get the job done.”
King has been getting it done all season long, ranking third on the team in scoring with 9.7 points per game, leading the team with a 43 percent three-point field goal percentage and also leading in the assist category with 2.9 a game.
While most ACU freshman athletes see little if any action in games, King has stepped in easily and made a big impact for the Wildcats. Lavender said this wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for King’s aptitude and hard work.
“She’s a quick learner,” Lavender said. “She’s able to pick up offenses and defenses easily. She’s a smart player; she stepped right in and didn’t miss a beat,” Lavender said. “When it’s practice time, she’ll give 110 percent. That dedication has gotten her to where she is today.”
She’s been there since the fifth game of the season, when then-head coach Wayne Williams approached King during pre-game warm ups.
“He told me I was starting, and there were definitely some butterflies,” King said. “I was nervous and the adrenaline was flowing during warm ups, but I came out and hit a three-pointer, so I was OK.”
King’s deadliness from beyond the three-point arc has been her greatest characteristic this season. As of Saturday, she had 51 three-point bombs on the season, seven away from setting a new single-season record for three-pointers made in a season. Anita Vigil holds the record with 57 three-pointers made in the 1990-91 season.
“She’s really good,” Barbee said. “She’s one of the best shooters on the team; she hits a lot of big shots.”
Junior forward Jackie Vinson agreed.
“She likes to make those awesome plays that get everybody fired up and get the energy going,” Vinson said. “She definitely brings a lot of energy to the team.”
King’s outside presence has provided ACU with another dimension to its game that helps win basketball games. The Wildcats were primarily a post-reliant offense for the past two seasons, counting on players like Vinson and junior center Melanie Carter to get the job done down low. Now, instead of forcing ill-advised shots against tough post defenses, ACU’s big players can kick the ball out to King.
“That’s been a big help,” Vinson said. “If the other team wants to cram the middle up on us, we’ve got that presence outside to rely on.”
Vinson, who also played significantly during her freshman season, said the trait that sets King apart from other freshmen is her confidence.
“I envy her so much because she has so much confidence, and I wish I would’ve had that when I was her age,” Vinson said. “At this level, confidence gives you an edge.”
King says she gained her competitive edge from her parents, who both participated in collegiate athletics and have both been strong influences on her.
“They both knew the rigors of sports and they pushed me to be the best I can be,” King said. “They taught me everything I need to know about life. They stood behind me and helped me succeed.”
King certainly succeeded at Weatherford High School, where as a four-year starter she averaged 14 points per game and was named all-region and all-state during her senior season. She signed a letter of intent to play for ACU during her junior year of high school.
“I wanted to come to ACU because it’s not all about basketball here,” King said. “People here care more about me as a person than me as a player … and, I like to win.”
Which is probably why her main goal at ACU is to win a national championship, and why Lavender said the Wildcats will have a reliable leader for three more seasons.
“Every time I watch her play I’m glad she’s only a freshman because we get to keep her for a while,” Lavender said. “I think she’ll have a great career at ACU, and she’ll be one of the top players in the Lone Star Conference the next couple of years.”