KIMBERLY – Senior Ashlie Watts took on a juggernaut role for Kimberly’s girls’ basketball this season. Not that she had much of a choice.
Watts’ junior year, the Bulldogs put together a historic season, winning every single game up until the state tournament. Watts had been a heavy contributor since the season prior, but graduation and turnover hit the program hard after finishing the season with a record of 23-2.
Her senior year, Watts’ father, Stanley Watts, signed on as head varsity coach. Kimberly would need to rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores who boasted essentially zero varsity experience in order to compete in the Sawtooth Central Idaho conference. The all-conference duo of Watts and fellow senior Emily Wadsworth headed into the 2016-2017 season with plenty of question marks.
Instead of folding, the Bulldogs finished with a 15-8 record, captured their second consecutive District 4 Championship, and finished third at the 3A State Tournament, largely thanks to the efforts of Times-News SCIC girls basketball Player of the Year Ashlie Watts.
Watts ranked second on the team in steals per game during the regular season, first in assists, first in three-pointers made, second in scoring with 10.8 points per game, and second in rebounds with 3.8 per game. She was also the team’s steadying force from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, converting 75 percent of her attempts during the regular season.
“I looked at (my role) as a game-to-game thing. If the other team left the middle of the floor open, then I would drive and shoot. If I needed to drive and dish to a post player, I would do that. It changed from game to game,” said Watts.
Watts functioned as a Swiss Army knife for the 2016-2017 version of the Bulldogs. If her team needed a big scoring night, she typically obliged, like when she scored 21 points and drained four three-pointers in a 10-point win over conference foe Gooding on January 25.
But more frequently, she took on the role of orchestrating the team’s offense, scoring between eight and 12 points, and affecting games in ways other than scoring.
“She’s a natural leader. Even back when she was young, she was the player who would guide others and tell them where to go,” said head coach Stanley Watts. “She shines at being able to read and react to what the defense is giving her. She can identify it, then get other players involved.”
The instinctive manner by which Watts, Wadsworth, and fellow senior Jessi Schmitz anticipated one another’s actions on the floor this season was no fluke—the trio first played AAU basketball together in the fourth grade, traveling as far as Boise and Salt Lake City for competitive basketball at the seasoned age of ten years old. Since they were so young, finding tournaments often meant playing against older competition.
“It was big for them to start playing together so young,” said Stanley Watts. “By this year, with Emily posting up down low, (Ashlie or Jessi) could drive and they’d know where she would be. As a ball handler, you should know where your teammates like the ball and where they like to shoot the ball.”
Watts coached that group of youngsters on the AAU circuit back in 2009, and followed them all the way up through the end of their freshman seasons at Kimberly. He was the junior varsity coach until taking over as varsity coach this year.
“He’s the type of coach who will tell you good job, but he’s also going to tell you something that you can do better, so you can take it to the next level. He’s not going to beat you down. He’ll tell you ‘good job,’ but he’ll also tell you what you can do better so that you’re constantly getting better,” said Watts.
That pursuit of perfection helped Watts act a mentor for the bevy of young players who were thrown into Kimberly’s rotation this season. She struck up a relationship with freshman twins Meg and Annie Walker, and Stanley Watts said the pair were “like sisters to her.”
“I knew coming into the year that I would have to be an example because we didn’t have a lot of experience. At the varsity level, it’s so much faster, and it can get frustrating,” said Watts. “A lot of times you can help them with the little things. You can’t fix their shot for them, but you can explain why they should do something a little different that will make a big difference.”
“If Ashlie is part of a team, it’s not just about her,” said Stanley Watts. “She wants everyone to be great.”