Chandler Prater started collecting college basketball scholarship offers before she even arrived at North Kansas City High School, and it wasn’t long before she started turning heads there, too.
“A guy I knew, he literally thought she was a college player returning to visit us, and I was like, ‘No, that’s our freshman,’” Hornets coach Jeff Lacy said with a laugh. “She’s been off the charts athletically all four years.”
Indeed, Prater has exceeded the promise she showed as a freshman. Northtown recently claimed its fourth straight conference title. Prater won the 2018 DiRenna Award last April as the top girls basketball player in the Kansas City area. She committed to play college ball at Kansas before starting her senior year.
The only items Prater and her fellow seniors haven’t accomplished are the last items left on the schedule: a state championship berth and state title.
“It was nice winning the DiRenna last year and everything, but it still feels like there was unfinished business here,” Prater said. “My goal is to win the state championship, and no less.
“Personal accolades are always really good, but when you get your team involved and get to share and enjoy with your team, it’s so much better.”
Postseason play is fickle, and the Hornets have endured their share of heartbreak over the last three years. The first year was chalked up to inexperience, and the last two playoff losses came when the team was perhaps just trying to do a bit too much.
“We just didn’t have our game, and it’s crazy because both years you feel like it’s crazy and you’re the better team. This year, we have the experience,” Prater said. “When you get a taste of something and then someone snatches it away, that’s what you imagine every time you go into this postseason. You know what it feels like and you know what it should be. It’s right there. It’s like when someone dangles it right in front of you. It’s ours to take this year.”
Prater, a 5-foot-9 guard, has done her part to get the Hornets back into this position without being as prolific as last year. She’s averaging around 17 points per game, down from about 21 per game last year. Lacy contributes that to the health of sophomore point guard Ja’mya Powell-Smith, who was injured for much of last season but has been averaging 15 points this season.
“She (Prater) has always been incredibly team-driven, and lets everything fall into place after that,” the coach said. “We have a lot more help this year, so while her numbers might not be as gaudy as last year, her peripherals have been just as good, and she’s been incredible for us this year.
“(Ja’mya) and Chandler work real well together, and Chandler can’t care less how much she scores. She doesn’t care. She cares about winning.”
Prater was able to focus entirely on her senior season after choosing Kansas before the school year began. It was between the Jayhawks and Marquette, and Prater decided to stay close to home.
“I could stay here and keep building what I started in Kansas City. I’ll just move a little bit down the road to Lawrence. It’ll feel like home still, and that’s important to me,” she said.
First, some unfinished business. The Hornets will start the playoffs against either Liberty North or Fort Osage. After that, a potential rematch with William Chrisman, one of the two teams to beat the Hornets this year, could await.
This is the time of year to be in peak form, and Prater is happy with the team’s progression.
“To me, as long as we’re taking steps forward, that’s all that really matters,” she said. “Especially in games leading up to the postseason. We’re about to be finally at our peak, and that’s where we should be.”
North Kansas City High was founded in 1925, yet only one team in program history — the 1957 boys who finished second — has made a state tournament appearance. Prater intends to write some school history before closing the book on this chapter of her career.
“The past years, it’s been a rollercoaster,” Prater said. “But this year, I feel like we’ve constantly been going up, and I feel like I’ve constantly been improving.”