AP NEWS

Pritchard pushes to improve

December 16, 2017 GMT

A couple of small gyms in the Portland area hosted high-level basketball games during the NBA offseason.

There was no promotion and no fans in attendance when Portland’s Damian Lillard, Shabazz Napier and Jake Layman met up with ex-Blazers Steve Blake and Channing Frye at local high schools. E.J. Singler, Andrew Andrews and Kyle Wiltjer, former prep stars from Oregon who have moved on to pro careers, also showed up, along with Payton Pritchard.

“Those games were great, real competitive,” Pritchard recalled.

As he prepared for his sophomore season as Oregon’s only returning starter, Pritchard pushed himself against next-level point guards.

“I knew Damian a little bit and got to play against him,” Pritchard said. “He was definitely hard to guard. Then I played on his team sometimes. He and Shabazz and Steve Blake. They would give me tips about different things, like how to use your moves more efficiently and get to your spots. I learned little things about how they play and how to use ball screens.”

Pritchard has boosted his averages across the board as he and the Ducks (8-3) play at Fresno State (9-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday in their only true road game of the nonconference schedule.

Pritchard has more than doubled his scoring average, leading the Ducks with 16 points per game, 15th in the Pac-12, and averaging 4.6 assists, one more than his freshman year.

He has pushed up his shooting percentages while taking nearly twice as many shots as last season. Pritchard is shooting 50 percent from the field after finishing at 39.3 last year. He is shooting 86.2 percent at the free-throw line and 44.6 percent on three-pointers to rank fourth and 10th, respectively, in the conference.

The pick-up games were just part of Prtichard’s testing himself against top competition during the offseason, including a stint at Chris Paul’s camp.

Pritchard was selected for Team USA’s U19 World Cup team and was named an All-Star in Cairo after averaging 9.0 points and 3.1 assists to help lead the Americans to a bronze medal. He had 16 points and four assists in a semifinal loss to Canada, which went on win the title, led by Oregon freshman Abu Kigab, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.6 rebounds.

“As soon as Payton starts opening his mouth and talking to me, I remind him, ‘gold medal’,” Kigab joked recently. “We go back and forth with that. It’s a lot of fun.”

Team USA was coached by John Calipari, who coached Derrick Rose and John Wall, among other NBA point guards, in college.

“You’re going to take some things from him. Look at who he has coached. It’s unbelievable,” Pritchard said.

Oregon coach Dana Altman encouraged Pritchard to face the top players he could during the summer.

“Some guys declined the (Team USA) invitations, but that’s not the way Payton addressed it,” Altman said. “When our season ended, he stayed in shape to make the team. He wanted to go represent his country and did a tremendous job.”

Follow Steve Mims on Twitter @SteveMims_RG . Email steve.mims@registerguard.com .