SAN DIEGO - Brandon Ashley peaked through Bishop O’Dowd’s circle-of-huddle and found his mom Lashiem’s eyes. It was her birthday and Ashley gave a twinkle that told her that everything was going to be just fine.
Up until that point, she was a nervous wreck.
Ashley, considered one of the top 10 sophomore basketball players in the country, was about to go to the free throw line for a one-an-one with 5.9 seconds left and his Dragons down 62-61 against Leuzinger-Lawndale in a MaxPreps Holiday Classic first-round game at Torrey Pines High School.
“Once he gave me that look, I knew then he was going to make them,” she said. “He wanted to make sure I had a happy birthday.”
It wasn’t quite that simple.
Ashley, a wiry 6-foot-8, 210-pound power forward who sports a 7-foot wingspan and size 18 shoe, went through his meticulous, old-school free-throw routine: Cradle the ball with his left arm, practice follow through with his right, bounce the ball three times, then fire.
His first attempt hit the back iron, caromed straight up into the air and fell through.
“I knew it was in the whole way,” Ashley grinned with another twinkle.
The second truly was automatic and swished right through. After a timeout, coast-to-coast and miss by Leuzinger senior guard Aqeel Qunn, the Dragons (6-1) had survived and play the nation’s 14th-ranked team Taft-Woodland Hills (8-1) Monday in a quarterfinal matchup.
Ashley, in his first start of the season due to a broken left ring finger and ensuing surgery, had 24 points and nine rebounds. Afterward he was whisked away for a radio, newspaper and video interviews and later got ribbed by older teammates for all the pub.
Then again, just about everyone on the roster is older than Ashley.
He’s just 15.
“We just call him NBA,” said O’Dowd senior guard James Thomas, who ignited the victory with eight quick points and a couple of assists early in the fourth quarter when the Dragons fought from behind. “We give him all sorts of grief for all the hype he gets. He handles it real well though. He stays really humble.”
Or else. ...
“My mom keeps me humble,” Ashley said. “She absolutely won’t let me get a big head.”
Lashiem laughed when told of her only son’s remark. She’s raising Ashley and his three sisters – two younger – by herself.
“Well, that’s true,” she said. “But Brandon is pretty humble on his own. He’s a very good kid. I’m proud of him.”
He’s well beyond his years, probably more so off the court than on, which is saying something.
His game is indeed advanced, showing off an impressive skill set that includes excellent footwork, spin moves and passing ability. He also possesses superb soft hands.
With his length – he’s projected to be a 7-footer – along with being extremely coachable according to O’Dowd coach Doug Vierra, Ashley appears to be a can’t miss college player. Perhaps beyond.
His dad Damon Ashley, also 6-8, played collegiately at Texas Tech.
If he keeps up his current 3.1 grade point average, Ashley should be able to get into most colleges but admits, “I can improve on (grades) considerably.”
Said Vierra: “He listens, he absorbs, he’s friendly. Sometimes kids with big basketball reps you worry about their attitude. But Brandon has never big-timed me or anyone in the program. He handles all the hype great.”
Mom or even teammates wouldn’t allow anything different.
Besides, Ashley has a strong peer in 6-6 sophomore Richard Longrus, another young phenom who also starred as a freshman for Bishop O’Dowd. Longrus averages 9.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in the early going for Bishop O’Dowd.
Both young forwards are built from the same modest cloth, Thomas said, but have totally different personalities.
“(Longrus) is super quiet and Brandon likes to joke around and have a lot of fun,” Thomas said.
Perhaps, too much fun at times, Vierra said. But the coach admits to being picky.
“There’s two ways I want him to grow this season as a player,” Vierra said. “Sometimes I’d like to see him work harder on his skills at practice and two, I’m looking for more consistency. Last year he had some really big games and then not so much the next game.”
But that could be the product of being so young.
“Sometimes it’s like he’s a really, really big puppy dog out there,” Thomas said. “But a really, really talented puppy.”
All agree that Ashley’s best trait is being a brother to his three sisters. His older sister Brieanna earned a full basketball scholarship to San Jose State but is out for the season with a knee injury.
Younger sisters Breyan, 9, and Brya, 6, are aspiring hoopsters. All agree that Breyan will probably be the best player among the Ashley quartet.
All his sisters along with about a half-dozen cousins made the trip to San Diego to watch the tournament.
“The reason Breyan is so good is because Brandon works with her so much,” Lashiem said. “Sometimes she’ll come in crying but that’s because Brandon is trying to toughen her up. He doesn’t take it easy on her. He’s totally involved with everything she does and totally supportive and protective of all his sisters.
“That makes a mom feel good.”
TOURNAMENT NOTES: O’Dowd will need a serious upgrade at guard play to hang with Taft, which goes at least 12 players deep and is stacked in the back court. Thomas gave a huge boost on Saturday but look for Nick Capiti, a 6-1 senior just coming back from injury, to add vital minutes. Capiti was key in O’Dowd’s huge 69-40 win over New Jersey power St. Anthony in last year’s first-round stunner at the Holiday Classic, coming off the bench to score 15 points. … Taft, coming off the championship of the Mission Prep Tournament in San Luis Obispo, showed great balance in an opening-round 87-55 win over Mesa (Ariz.) as four players scored in double figures led by 19 from Pierson Williams. USC-bound Bryce Jones added 18, including a pair of monster dunks. Texas-bound De Andre Daniels leads Taft in scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.7). … Other quarterfinal games pit Price-Los Angeles (11-0) against Newark Memorial (7-1) and Centennial-Corona (8-2) against defending state champion Eisenhower-Rialto (9-3). … St. Patrick (3-0), the nation’s No. 1 team, can only play three games in the tournament due to strict New Jersey rules. The Celtics receive a bye into Tuesday’s semifinals and will play the Centennial-Eisenhower winner.
At Torrey Pines HS
Leuzinger vs. Mesa, 9:30 a.m.
McClymonds vs. Fairfax, 11:05 a.m.
La Vern Lutheran vs. Ironwood Ridge, 12:40 p.m.
Franklin vs. Compton, 2:15 p.m.
Price vs. Newark Memorial, 5:25 p.m.
Bishop O'Dowd vs. Taft, 7 p.m.
Centennial vs. Eisenhower, 8:35 p.m.
At La Costa Canyon HS
James Logan vs. Cienga, 9:30 a.m.
Campbell Hall vs. Roosevelt, 11:05 a.m.
Windward vs. Simi Valley, 12:40 a.m.
Huntington Beach vs. Birmingham, 2:15 p.m.
Foothills Christian vs. Long Beach Jordan, 3:50 p.m.
Oakland vs. Los Osos, 5:25 p.m.
Los Alamitos vs. St. Joseph Notre Dame, 7 p.m.
La Costa Canyon vs. Miramonte, 8:35 p.m.
Senator's Cup Division
At Cathedral HS
Washington Prep vs. Los Angeles Cathedral, 11:05 a.m.
Community Charter vs. Mayfair, 12:40 p.m.
Folsom vs. The Rock, 2:15 p.m.
San Diego Cathedral vs. Desert Vista, 3:50 p.m.
Francis Parker vs. Yale Secondary, 5:25 p.m.
Maranatha vs. Pacific Hills, 7 p.m.
Chaparral vs. Spanish Springs, 8:35 p.m.
Governor's Cup Division
At Rancho Bernardo HS
Ribet Academy vs. Temecula Valley, 11:05 a.m.
Catalina Foothills vs. Upland, 12:40 p.m.
Carlsbad vs. Brea Olinda, 3:50 p.m.
Poway vs. Santa Margarita, 5:25 p.m.
College Park vs. Ponderosa, 7 p.m.
Rancho Bernardo vs. Vista Del Lago, 8:35 p.m.
Mayor's Cup Division
At Westview HS
Tesoro vs. Bakersfield Christian at Rancho Bernardo, 9:30 a.m.
St. Joseph Santa Maria vs. Palm Desert, 12:40 p.m.
Rancho Buena Vista vs. Yucaipa, 2:15 p.m.
TBA vs. College Park at Rancho Bernardo, 2:15 p.m.
St. Mary's vs. La Jolla, 3:50 p.m.
Torrey Pines vs. Temescal Canyon at Torrey Pines HS, 3:50 p.m.
Cowichan vs. Flintridge Prep, 5:25 p.m.
La Jolla Country Day vs. Westview, 7 p.m.