The Washington Post

Gwynn Park center Ashanti Freeland headed to La Salle

Gwynn Park avenged an early-season loss to Largo with a 66-54 win Thursday night, clinching a share of the Prince George’s County 3A/2A/1A title and a top seed in the playoffs. Part of the difference between a January loss and a February win, players said afterwards, was the intensity of the Yellow Jackets’ defense: Gwynn Park’s guards pressured Largo aggressively far from the  hoop, taking chances on steals and physical play that ran the risk of resulting in easy baskets if the Lions broke through.

For the most part, the Lions didn’t break through. But when they did, they ran into senior Ashanti Freeland, whose presence in the paint was felt more Thursday night than it had been earlier in the season.

When Lions dashed toward the hoop, the 6-foot-3 Freeland calmly shuffled her feet to greet them, then kept those feet firmly planted  as she stuffed would-be shots back  from where they’d come. This process repeated itself on several occasions throughout the game, and combined with the 16 points she chipped in with put-backs and post moves, showed the well-rounded, still-growing game that led college coaches to show Freeland significant interest. As Gwynn Park Coach Mike Strother announced to the senior night crowd before Thursday’s game, Freeland ultimately chose La Salle, where she signed a National Letter-of-Intent earlier this month.

“They’ve been watching me since my freshman year, and they scouted me at AAU, too. So that was my first idea of La Salle,” Freeland said. “But I went there, I really liked the school. It has a beautiful campus, and the basketball team — the whole team — welcomed me with open arms.”

In Freeland, the Explorers get a rapidly improving player still growing into her frame and learning to use her length on both sides of the floor.

“My defense has gotten a lot better,” Freeland said. “My ability to block shots, my defense, that’s all improved. I still want to improve on my ball handling. More 4/3 type stuff instead of 4/5.”

For now, she’ll stick to her duties as center for the Yellow Jackets, who have a senior-heavy team hungry to make one last magical playoff run.

Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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