Pritchard: 'I took advantage of the opportunities I had'
Payton Pritchard was a big shot in Oregon high school basketball. The 2016 West Linn graduate has made his mark in college, too, having started as a freshman point guard on the University of Oregon's 2016-17 Final Four team.
Now the rest of the world is learning he is special.
Pritchard, 19, recently finished a nine-day stretch in Cairo, Egypt, with Team USA in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup. He made the All-Star Five, averaging 9.0 points, 3.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 18.0 minutes per game.
The U.S. went 6-1 at the Cairo Stadium Indoor Halls Complex, losing to Canada, 99-87, in the July 8 semifinals.
"The tournament was great, but it was disappointing we lost in the semis," Pritchard said. "We just didn't show up that game, and Canada had a great game plan."
Canada was 0-5 all-time in the tourney against USA Basketball, including losses in the 2009 and 2013 quarterfinals.
Pritchard had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists versus the Canadians, but "we didn't execute or hit free throws, and that led to us losing," he said. "We were easily the most talented, the best team in the tournament, but we didn't get it done. It's just whether guys want to compete or not, really battle, and that hurt us."
Pritchard and the U.S. — led by University of Kentucky coach John Calipari — opened group play with a 108-48 win over Iran on July 1. The Americans then beat Angola, 109-68, on July 2; Italy, 98-65, on July 4, and Mali, 117-69, on July 5, to take the top seed in their pool.
Team USA defeated Germany, 81-59, in the July 7 quarterfinals, and beat Spain, 96-72, in the bronze medal game on July 9.
Pritchard had eight points, one rebound, two assists and three steals against Germany. Versus Spain, he had 12 points, three rebounds, six assists and one steal. Against Canada, he stepped up with his tournament high, 16 points, plus four rebounds, four assists and one steal.
"I took advantage of the opportunities I had," he said. "You're not playing the whole game, so I was just going to play my game and compete on defense and do whatever it takes to win."
Pritchard said seeing overseas talent and players who "could be NBA prospects was cool," and he appreciated the competition.
Abu Kigab, a 6-7 small forward from Napa, California, who will join Pritchard at Oregon this fall, had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists for Canada in the semifinal. Kigab joined Pritchard on the all-tournament team.
"This year has been great," Pritchard said. "The talent across the board I've gotten to play against, it's made me better, and I'm ready to take next year to a whole other level. Mentally and physically, I've gotten stronger throughout this year. And I'm more confident."
Pritchard will relish his memories of the FIBA tourney.
"Really getting close to … teammates, Carsen Edwards, Kevin Huerter — I was already close with P.J. Washington — those experiences with those guys, you'll have that bond with them for a lifetime," he said.
The U.S. team also got to visit the pyramids on the Giza Plateau.
"It was a great experience … one I'll always remember," he said.
Pritchard needed some downtime after the event, though, and there's no better place for that than at the West Linn home of his parents, Melissa and Terry Pritchard.
West Linn will always be home for Pritchard.
"Anything for the folks in West Linn," he said. "I love this community. It's where I'm from."
Getting back from Egypt wasn't easy. The trip lasted more than 32 hours — in part because of an eight plus-hour delay in Washington, D.C.
But, by Tuesday Pritchard was working out and preparing for his sophomore season. The Ducks list him at 6-0 and 200 pounds; Team USA had him at 6-2, 175.
Pritchard said it wasn't easy for him as a UO freshman. He battled his way into the starting lineup in five games and helped the Ducks take off on a 31-4 tear that took them to within one game of the NCAA finals.
"It was a lot like my freshman year of high school," he said. "I didn't start right away (at West Linn), and I had to come into college and earn my spot. I just had to prove to everybody I deserved it. I had to earn every minute to get my spot. Nothing was given to me, and that's what made me better. I had to work for every little thing I got, and that right there gets you better."
The key, he said, was the mental toughness he learned under former West Linn coach Eric Viuhkola.
"I was totally prepared for the mental side of it. That was not a challenge," Pritchard said. "I've got to give credit to (Viuhkola), because he's one of the best coaches in Oregon high school sports ever. Winning four straight (titles) was great, but he mentally prepared us and challenged us every day at practice.
"Mentally, going into college, I was prepared for everything. I was always just locked in. He came to work every day with us and never took it on me easy on me, either. He challenged me every day to be at my best, and I've got to give him big thanks for that, because there was no loafing around for me."