FORTVILLE — A Mt. Vernon forward catches the pass on the baseline, about 8 feet from the basket for an easy jumper. She is wide open and lets it fly.
But in a flash, the ball is coming right back at her after 6-foot-1 Gracie King and her long arms swoop over like a condor to swat it out of the air.
It was a sight Arabian fans saw glimpses of last season and something the Mt. Vernon players saw too much of in the opening moments of a scrimmage Tuesday, June 27. King blocked three shots early on and several more throughout the two-hour practice session. She seemed to have an innate ability to not only block the shot but grab the rebound herself.
Later, her entire face lighted up when she talked about blocking shots.
“It’s just instinct, I guess,” she said with a smile. “It’s fun; I enjoy it.”
She would have had more, but the Marauders stopped trying to shoot from that close.
“She really shuts it down inside,” PHHS coach Chad Cook said. “She’s altering shots, blocking shots, making it tough on people to score in there.”
King played limited varsity minutes last season as a freshman but was still fourth on the team in blocked shots with 11; she wreaked havoc on the interior during JV games.
Cook said one of the things his young Arabians will have to learn is how to play with King and 6-foot Laikyn Connor, also an incoming sophomore, on the interior.
“We’re collapsing like you would normally need to do, helping when the ball goes inside,” he said. “But we don’t need to do that; just stay on your man.”
Team defense will be key for the Arabians this season, according to Cook. With five of the team’s top six scorers gone to graduation, the defense may need to carry the team at times while the young Arabians sort out their offensive roles.
“Defense is going to be critical,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to hang our hat. We’ll have some length, and our style of defense won’t be necessarily what you see today.”
King’s ability to defend the basket figures to be an important part of that team defense, and her coach is hoping to see her build on those skills and become a little more aggressive offensively as well.
“Defensively, it’s going to be critical for her to look to get as many blocked shots and rebounds as she can,” Cook said. “Then, offensively, we’re looking for her to look to score more. She looks to pass first, doesn’t necessarily look to score first. She’ll gain more and more of that as she’s playing these minutes during the summer.”
King is pulling double duty this summer. Not only is she playing basketball, she’s also prepping for the volleyball season, which gets started in August. She doesn’t have a favorite and doesn’t mind the hard work.
“It’s tough, but I enjoy it,” she said. “I enjoy all the practices and stuff.”
King is looking to get stronger this year, which means several hours per week in the weight room. She said she can see and feel the effects.
“We go three times a week for an hour and a half to two hours,” she said. “I feel stronger.”
That’s good news for Pendleton Heights, but not such welcome news for its opponents.