As a freshman in high school, Payton Pritchard wasn’t one to sit out drills, but one day, he asked coach Eric Vuihkola if he could go to the training room.
Viuhkola noticed that Pritchard’s hands, which were taped, were covered in small cuts.
When Viuhkola asked where they came from, Pritchard told Viuhkola that he was dribbling too much. Now Viuhkola had been dribbling all his life but never so much that he cut his fingers.
At some point during Pritchard’s first year, Viuhkola approached Pritchard’s father, who is also Pritchard’s AAU coach, about the cuts on his son’s hands.
Every morning at 5:30 a.m., Pritchard’s alarm clock goes off, and he heads to his garage for an hour of dribbling before school. He runs a plyometric workout during lunch, when all the other students are going off campus to eat, and gets up 500 shots after school.
Weighted basketballs are coarse and designed to improve wrist and hand strength. Pritchard had gotten as new one as a freshman – and West Linn’s (Oregon) starting point guard – and spent an hour every morning with it.
His hands took a beating, but he kept working on his game, even through the cuts.
”He is probably the most-committed, hardest-working young person I’ve ever been around,” Viuhkola said. “. . . He’s just that kid. He’s going to get it done. I believe he’s going to play in the NBA, just because of that work ethic and mentality.”
Pritchard isn’t all heart. He’s got some game to go with it.
After averaging 22 points and 5.8 assists per game per game, Pritchard led West Linn to its third-straight 6A state title and was named tournament MVP for the second straight year. He is the Sooners’ first four-star commit since Cameron Clark in 2010 and the best overall recruit since Tiny Gallon in 2009.
Pritchard, whose parents were Sooners and whose sister still lives in Oklahoma City, is a sign that Oklahoma’s program has improved. He insists that he’s just building on the turnaround that has already begun.
“Buddy Hield and (Ryan) Spangler and (Isaiah) Cousins, they kind of did the rebuilding part,” Pritchard said. “I think they put it on the map. Now, we’re just coming in and pushing it to the top. You have to give credit to them. They did the re-building.”
Pritchard is a bit like the icing on the cake for Oklahoma, and the ultra-competitive, 6-foot-1 point guard will be an immediate contributor – likely as a back-up behind Jordan Woodard, who will be a senior when Pritchard comes to Oklahoma, and then as a three-year starter.
Just another line in the growth of Oklahoma, according to Pritchard. Another line in the new breed of point guard, according to his coach.
“He’s just going to do whatever it takes to win,” Viuhkola said. “. . . Point guards have always been the quarterback. We put it in his hands, and he makes it happen.
“We spread it out. If you’re going to double him and do all that, he’s going to find an easy on. If you leave him on an island, he’s going to turn you around. That’s kind of his game.”
In November, Pritchard chose Oklahoma over Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Oregon and Villanova. He’ll be making his first visit as a commit next weekend – April 17 through the 19. When he finally gets to Oklahoma for the start of the 2016-17 season, he’ll be an immediate impact player.
When Pritchard first started at West Linn, he was surrounded by talented players at a program that hadn’t had much success before its current run. As a bloody-handed freshman point guard, Pritchard found ways to get the players around him the ball.
“He is going to make other better – either with him getting easy ones and them having to help or he’s just gonna make players better around him,” Viuhkola said. “I would think that’s the No. 1 thing he’s going to bring to the table when he gets there.”
He developed into a scoring point guard after last year’s graduating class, which helped the program’s turnaround, left the school and looked like the best point guard at the USA Basketball tryouts.
Pritchard and his callused fingers, hardened by work ethic, will be one of the top-rated players on campus since current NBA All-Star and former No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin.
“I want to be a leader, a point guard and just get everybody involved,” Pritchard said. “I want to be like a 14-10-10 type of guy. I don’t want to be selfish or just score. I want to be a type of guy that gets a double-double and gets everybody involved. I think that’s better.”