Laura Stockton making noise of her own

Laura Stockton has recently drawn interest from major programs across the country. And her coaches say her best is still to come. Courtesy Fr. Tom Lankenau

For Laura Stockton, there were a variety of emotions -- sadness, confusion, understanding and hope -- all packed into one pivotal conversation.

Stockton, whose father, John Stockton, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame after his stellar NBA career as a Utah Jazz point guard, had come to talk to her AAU coach, Kerry Pickett, because she felt he was being overly hard on her.

Pickett, who coaches the Spokane Sandpipers, remembers the conversation well, and said it took place a couple of years ago during a rough season. He had been urging Stockton -- loudly -- to take more responsibility.

"He's a tough coach to begin with," said Stockton, a 5-foot-8 rising senior point guard at Gonzaga Prep (Spokane, Washington). "He will get on you -- especially if he knows you are capable of more.

"Once I found out that he was pushing me so hard because he thought I had potential ... I guess I was excited that I was getting yelled at for that reason."

Pickett goes way back with the Stockton family. He coached John 40 years ago when the future NBA star was a teen.

And Pickett was hard on John, too.

"One day, when John was in the seventh grade, he came to me in tears because he said it seemed like I was picking on him," Pickett said. "I said, 'Yes, and that's not going to change.'"

Pickett, who was in law school at Gonzaga at the time, said John's father, Jack, had given him a job tending bar at his tavern. In return, Jack had asked that Pickett get the most out of John on the basketball court.

"I told him that Jack was my friend and that I had made him a promise," Pickett said. "John never brought it up again. He just outworked everyone.

"Fast-forward 40 years: I explained to Laura that John was my friend and that if she couldn't take it, she should quit.

"She responded in identical fashion: She went to work."

Last summer, Stockton helped the Sandpipers put together an amazing season, finishing 50-2. And this past spring, Stockton helped Gonzaga Prep win a state title for the first time in program history.

Stockton, 17, has since received a handful of scholarship offers from schools such as Gonzaga -- which is her parents' alma mater -- and Oregon.

"Laura has gone from a few mid-major offers to ... I can't count the number of schools who are calling with serious interest," Pickett said. "All of a sudden, she is getting Pac-12 and Big Ten interest."

Athletic family

John's dad was a boxer and his grandfather Houston was a star halfback at Gonzaga from 1922-1924. John's wife, Nada, competed in volleyball and track at Gonzaga.

More recently, basketball has become the preferred family game, starting with John, of course, but continuing from there.

Laura, who is the fifth of John and Nada's six children, has a sister, Lindsay, a rising junior guard at Montana State who has started five games during her first two years.

Brother Michael played basketball as a 6-1 point guard at NAIA Westminster College in Salt Lake City, averaging 18.2 points as a senior. He played pro ball in Germany's second division last season.

Another brother, David, played basketball as a 5-11 guard at Gonzaga, becoming a starter as a senior last season, averaging 7.4 points and 4.2 assists.

Breaking the mold a bit was brother Houston, who played football at Montana (2006-10) as a backup safety and special-teamer.

Laura, who still plays soccer for fun as a forward on her high school team, said she tried numerous sports, but basketball quickly became her passion.

"I played softball and volleyball, and I had a blast. My parents gave me the option to try any sport I wanted," she said. "But I fell in love with basketball, and it's always been a dream of mine to play the game at the highest level possible."

Laura said there were some wicked basketball games in the driveway, and they usually involved her sister and a couple of her brothers.

"My knees would always get scraped up," she said. "I don't think they tried as hard as they could -- but just enough to toughen me up."

John has served as an assistant coach at Gonzaga Prep for the past several years, through Lindsay's career and now Laura's.

Next season, he will likely serve in the same capacity when his youngest son, Samuel, enters his freshman year at Gonzaga.

Mike Arte, who is entering his 27th year as Gonzaga Prep's girls' basketball coach, said John is treated "like a rock star" when the team travels.

"But to people in Spokane, he's just John," Arte said. "No one ever asks him for an autograph here.

"It's wonderful having him with us. He doesn't do a lot with X's and O's, but he loves working with the kids on their fundamentals."

John Stockton, the NBA's all-time assist leader, said he feels fortunate to have been able to watch his kids play as much as he has. Since he retired from the NBA in 2003, he has been at almost every game Laura has played.

And, suffice to say, he has been impressed.

"She has always seemed to get it," he said. "For example, we didn't put her into soccer right away because we thought it was too early. But they were short a player, and she got dragged in ... and once she did, she knew all the rules and all the angles.

"I don't want to be a bragging dad, but she lit it up."

Evolving as a player and a person

Laura said she doesn't know yet what she wants to study in college, but she has a 3.4 GPA, plays the piano and aspires to contribute to the best NCAA team possible.

Arte used Laura as a reserve during her freshman season, when she averaged 7.5 points. Lindsay was the starting point guard at the time, and the team finished fifth at state.

Laura became a starter as a sophomore -- after her sister had graduated -- and averaged 11.5 points on a team that finished fourth at state.

Last year came the breakthrough -- the Class 4A state title -- and Laura was a stat-sheet filler, averaging 13 points, 5.5 assists and 4.5 steals.

"We return eight players, including four starters, off that team," Arte said. "So we should be in the running [for a state title] again."

Laura said she has learned "how to compete" from her dad, and she doesn't listen to any critics who judge her harshly.

After all, it would be foolish to expect any high school player to be as good as John Stockton.

"Mostly, I try to ignore it," Laura said of the critics. "There are always going to be negative people. But I think [my siblings and I] have done a good job of not getting involved [in negativity]."

Her favorite point guard is Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, but she also has seen highlight tapes of her dad.

"He was small [6-1] for the NBA, and I'm a small point guard as well," she said. "You have to learn to be tough against bigger and stronger players."

Arte said Laura is definitely tough enough -- and skilled, too.

"She's not flashy, and she doesn't have track speed," he said. "But she has a tremendous burst with her first steps, and she plays with great balance and vision.

"And the best thing is that she gets better every month. When she is 20 years old, I predict she will be two or three times better than she is now."