At the end of his sophomore season, Lake Norman forward Kishawn Pritchett was playing a game of pickup basketball with some friends. Nothing special.
Lake Norman coach Brandon Jolly was convinced that if Pritchett had a summer AAU season anywhere close to what Jolly expected him to have, that the college coaches would start to come after him hot and heavy.
Only, Pritchett stepped on the foot of another player in that pickup game. Pritchett broke his ankle and needed surgery. By the time he came back, Pritchett was able to play only two AAU tournaments and, as Jolly said, “He was 70 percent at best.”
Well, the guy who made the game-winning buzzer beater to beat Ardrey Kell 45-43 in the N.C. 4A quarterfinals Thursday looked a lot like the guy Jolly thought coaches would see last summer. Pritchett, 6-foot-5 and thick, has the body of a high school defensive end and the soft 3-point shooting touch of a much smaller player. He shoots over small players and dribbles past bigger ones.
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Ardrey Kell gave him extra defensive attention Thursday, with coach Mike Craft yelling “Help!” nearly every time Pritchett leaned down to make a move. Craft also called plenty of double teams. Nothing worked. Pritchett made 3-of-7 3-point shots, finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and that cold-blooded, perfectly soft, 3-pointer to win it.
His play sent the Wildcats (27-1) to Saturday’s regional championship game where Lake Norman will try to get to a second state final in five seasons.
“Kishawn has been offered by Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina,” Jolly said. “He missed all of last summer, but guys would come to see (6-9 junior) Hunter (Seacat) this fall and go ‘Who is this kid?’ ”
This is who he is. Pritchett has averaged 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He’s had two triple doubles, and in the playoffs – when Lake Norman has run through regional powers Independence, Olympic and Ardrey Kell in consecutive games – he’s played his best basketball when his team needed it most.
“It’s so effortless, everything that he does,” Jolly said. “A lot of times it looks like he’s not playing hard, but he’s so fluid. And he’s about to have a lot of big-time schools looking him. He’s really coming on.”
Lake Norman is coming on, too. It was moved out of a power conference of Charlotte teams this year and joined a league of 3A and 4A teams that was considered much weaker. So all year long, despite ascending to the top spot in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll twice, the Wildcats have heard they were overrated because they hadn’t really played anyone, and when they did, North Mecklenburg beat them by 10.
Forget all that now. Lake Norman – and Pritchett – are for real.
“All year long, since we play in a 3A/4A conference, we don’t play the quality teams like we did in the I-Meck,” Pritchett said. “I wish we were still in the I-MECK so we could prove ourselves. But I guess we’re proving ourselves now.”