Coach switch has resounding effect

Ashton Pankey continued to progress as last week’s Reebok All-American Camp in front of hundreds of Division I college coaches. Photo by Damion Reid/Five Boro Sports

Ashton Pankey begrudgingly transferred from Archbishop Molloy HS in Briarwood Queens to St. Anthony in Jersey City last year.

He couldn’t be happier with his good fortune now.

His grades have improved, to an 85 average and 1400 on the SATs, and his maturity is obvious. He is more confident, on the court and off. He is a harder worker.

The switch from one legendary coach, Jack Curran at Molloy, to another in Bob Hurley at St. Anthony has had a resounding effect on Pankey.

Lifting weights for the first time, he is stronger; his conditioning improved, too. Facing better competition forced him to improve on a daily basis. He has become a rebounding and shot-blocking force, and a deadlier threat in the paint offensively.

“I’m more disciplined now,” said Pankey, who still lives at home in the Bronx, making the commute to Jersey City every day during the school year. “I’m happy with my situation.”

The athletically gifted, 6-foot-8 Pankey competed in the Reebok All-American Camp last week at Philadelphia University, making the all-star team. He has received scholarship offers from LaSalle, Temple, Manhattan, St. John’s and Rhode Island and interest from Louisville, USC and Syracuse.

“He’s strong, talented. … I think he has a great upside,” one Big East assistant coach said. “He makes the 15-foot jump shot, makes layups. That’s important, when a big guy makes layups.”

Pankey got a late start to basketball, joining Team Odom in the sixth grade, at the age of 11. Two years later, he found his way to New Heights, an emerging AAU program.

In a lengthy interview, he never once talked about what he has accomplished; it was what he needed to master to improve. It’s music to Kimani Young’s ears. The New Heights athletic director sees that as a reflection of Hurley, his new coach.

“He’s driven,” Young said. “Obviously playing for Coach Hurley is going to push him to his limits, and that can only help him as a player and a person.”

Young, who coaches Pankey during the fall and summer, said consistency – “when he wants to bring it every day, the sky is the limit,” he said – is the lone characteristic holding back the talented forward. He’s seen that relentlessness recently, particularly in Philadelphia.

“He’s been competing at a high level,” Young said.

Pankey said he would like to add diversity to his game, to become a threat on the perimeter as well as in the paint, where he can finish with either hand. Blessed with quickness and soft hands, Pankey said he feels he can play small forward at the next level. Before that, Young wants him to develop a go-to move on the low blocks, a jump hook or turnaround jumper to complement his power game.

“That will come with time,” Young said.

His development may never have taken place if not for the incident that painted Pankey in a poor light. School officials accused him of possessing a stolen cell phone on school grounds; he said he paid for it, only to learn it was stolen later. Pankey eventually withdrew from Molloy after being told he was no longer wanted.

He said it bothered him that the negative information got out before he could clear his name and set the record straight.

Looking back, he said, it was a blessing.

“At the end of the day look at where I am now,” Pankey said. “I have great colleges (recruiting me). I’m playing great.”

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