July 18, 2008
By David Driver
For the Columbian, used with permission
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ashley Corral certainly looked the part of an American basketball player here Thursday in the nation’s capital.
The Prairie High School graduate, a member of the U.S. U-18 women’s national team, wore red basketball shoes, a blue shirt with white letters, shorts and white socks. The USA on the front of her jersey was in bright red.
But after a morning session on the practice court of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the 5-foot-9 guard was bemoaning her missed free throw in the closing minutes of practice.
That meant an extra wind sprint for the American team, which will practice at the Verizon Center in Washington through Sunday in preparation for the FIBA Americas U-18 championship that begins Wednesday in Argentina.
“It is one of those things. It is not about the running. It is not about the punishment,” Corral, the Vancouver product, said of the missed free throw. “It is about game situations. You don’t want to miss a free throw.”
Corral, 18, who will play college basketball at Southern California in the fall, and her teammates have a few days to get out the kinks.
She is also wearing a pad on her right elbow after suffering a bruise during a practice session in Colorado.
The Americans, who arrived here Wednesday after a week of practice in Colorado Springs, will begin play July 23 in Buenos Aires against Venezuela. The team includes players headed to college powers Tennessee, Connecticut, Stanford and Maryland.
“We are still working on team chemistry,” Corral said after practice Thursday morning. “That is always going to take longer with a new team. All of our coaches are really pushing being a leader. Point guards especially have the responsibility of being a leader.”
U.S. head coach Carol Owens, who is also the head coach at Northern Illinois, has been impressed with Corral’s play.
"She is a great shooter, but she can also play the point,” Owens said. “She has good vision. She is a good passer. I like her competitiveness. She likes to win. She is a smart player. I think she is going to be a good leader beyond the Americas Championship.”
Corral said the coaches have stressed the importance of ball control.
“We have a lot of turnovers right now from not knowing each other,” said Corral, who began training July 10 with the U.S. team in Colorado.
One of Corral’s teammates on the American team is Samantha Prahalis, a 5-7 guard from New York who will be a freshman this fall at Ohio State. The two split playing time for part of the practice session Thursday but were also on the court at the same time.
“It has been a lot of fun. We work well together,” Prahalis said of Corral. “We have good chemistry.”
The U.S. team includes two players bound for Stanford, center Sarah Boothe and forward Nneka Ogwumike, who are future Pacific-10 Conference foes of Corral.
“Right now it is all about USA,” Corral said. “Maybe in the fall we will talk” about college rivalries.
The U.S. team arrived here Wednesday after a week of practice in Colorado Springs, where Corral said the high altitude was a difficult adjustment. Once in Washington, the team checked into its hotel in Chinatown and then took a walking tour of major monuments on the National Mall.
Corral, for the first time, was able to see the Washington Monument, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and other tourist sites.
“I have only seen it in movie and pictures,” Corral said of Washington. “Everything is a lot bigger in person.”
The team plans to attend a WNBA game between host Washington and Detroit today.
“It is pretty awesome. It is cool to walk out here,” Corral said of practicing at the WNBA arena. “It is a great facility.”
But the McDonald’s All-American, who scored 1,585 points with 596 assists in high school, really looks forward to the FIBA event in Argentina.
“I am just excited about something new,” said Corral, who has never been outside of the United States. “There is no better feeling than putting on a USA jersey.”