Hall-Dale junior has improved his game

FARMINGDALE — Chris Ranslow liked what he saw from Ashtyn Abbott last year. But at season’s end, the Hall-Dale boys basketball coach had a conversation with the sophomore and let him know he was looking for more.

The meeting wasn’t about general concepts, like working on free throws or improving his dribbling. Ranslow saw that Abbott could be a special player, and he gave him a detailed checklist on how to get there.

“Getting the ball inside the paint, ball faking, using my right hand instead of all left,” Abbott recalled. “Shooting the mid-range instead of only being a spot-up shooter. Playing good defense. Boxing out.”

“(I had) a conversation with him about how I see him as being our offensive leader, but there are times he does things that force the coaching staff to take him off the floor,” Ranslow said. “He needed to clean those up.”

Abbott listened, and halfway through his junior season, it’s showed. Abbott has become one of the best players in the Mountain Valley Conference, and an all-around threat that has the Bulldogs poised at 10-0 for a deep playoff run. He’s averaging 19.2 points per game, up from 8.5 last year, while pulling down 6.8 rebounds per contest.

“It’s amazing, the jump that he’s made,” senior forward Jett Boyer said. “During the summer you could really see that he was going to turn into something special, and it happened. He’s tearing it up for us this year.”

The jump has seen Abbott develop a game that can produce points from all over the floor. He can knock down the 3-pointer or swish shots from inside the arc. He can take the ball down lower and score from the elbow and the block. He’s become an elusive and gifted finisher around the rim, and he added three more inches to a 6-foot frame and an explosive vertical element with it, which he demonstrated by throwing down a dunk on the fast break during a 49-46 win over Winthrop last week.

“I’m trying to work hard, trying to do what I need to do to make the team win,” he said. “And it’s working. We’re playing great basketball.”

They are. And according to Ranslow, Abbott’s progress has been a big reason why.

“I think that he’s had an incredible jump,” he said. “He’s very difficult to guard, he’s left-handed, he’s kind of (Manu) Ginobili-esque for me. He kind of keeps you off-balance. When you think he’s going to go, he pulls up. When you think he’s going to pull up, he goes by you.

“He’s a big part of everything that we’re trying to do on the basketball court.”

It wasn’t that way last year, when Ranslow looked for Abbott to contribute in more ways than he did. As talented as anyone on the squad, including Boyer and MVC first-team All-Star Alec Byron, Abbott too often was passive on offense and defense, settling too often for deep shots and reluctant often to throw himself into the fray under the basket for rebounds.

“At times last year he was trying to find his way from a developmental standpoint,” Ranslow said. “In practice when the lights weren’t on, you saw kind of the beauty of his game. But all of a sudden, when the whistles were out and tension was at its highest, he wasn’t executing those skills at a really high level.”

Abbott heard the constructive criticism, then made it a point to apply the advice to his own game during summer basketball in the Cony league.

“(Ranslow) gave me a few things to work on looking forward to this year,” he said, “and I really emphasized those parts of my game over the summer and tried to mold myself into the player he wants me to be.”

The growth has been clear on the offensive end. No longer a 3-point bomber, Abbott has found success both driving into the lane and with a dangerous jumper.

“I love the mid-range jump shot now,” he said, smiling. “It’s my favorite.”

The numbers bear it out. After taking 95 3-pointers last year, Abbott has taken only 19 this year. Meanwhile, his field goal percentage has jumped from 36.6 percent to 48.9.

“This year he’s really taken his game inside,” Byron said. “He’s just able to use his strength and out-muscle his opponent, and he’s done a really good job of that for us so far this year.”

“What he’s gained is confidence,” Ranslow said. “When you go in those tough areas, you get hit. You get bruised. It’s not always fun. … (But) when you go in there and you reward yourself with the success of scoring more points and getting more rebounds, it encourages you to go back.”

Perhaps the most improvement, however, has come on the boards. Now 6-3 and with more size to work with, Abbott has more willingly fought for loose balls and rebounds against bigger and taller players. He’s improved his technique, using one hand to gain an extra inch or two in the battle for the ball, and he’s averaging 6.8 rebounds per game after averaging 4.5 last winter.

“I feel like I’ve been rebounding a lot better than I have in years past,” said Abbott, who said he picked up pointers from senior center Owen Dupont, one of the Bulldogs’ hardest-nosed players. “It’s definitely a mindset. You’ve got to go and you’ve got to want to do it.”

The hard work hasn’t escaped the notice of his coach.

“I think he added a lot of grit and a lot of polish to his game this offseason,” Ranslow said. “It’s really just been his gain kind of outside during the offseason that he’s brought back to the court this winter. We’ve all been a benefactor of it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM