TRENTON, Ga. - Some athletes are simply born with so much natural ability that their rise to the upper echelon of sports is, well, easy.
That wasn't the case with Ashley Houts.
When the subject of the Georgia Lady Bulldogs' star point guard is brought up, those who watched her in high school at Dade County will quickly say she's not only the best basketball player to come out of Trenton, she's also the best athlete. Period.
However, the men who coached her through four seasons, 2,569 points, 564 rebounds, 580 assists, 768 steals and more awards than any one trophy case could contain, recall a different person. Yes, Houts was talented, but that's not what made her one of the most memorable Chattanooga-area athletes of the past decade.
"Her competitiveness to be the best in whatever she was doing is what sets her apart," said Randy Watson, who moved up from assistant to head the Lady Wolverines when Houts was a senior. "What people on the outside didn't see was how hard she worked. As an example, during summers we worked out three days a week. She would be here at 5:30 a.m. to lift weights, come back and shoot all afternoon and go play AAU ball that evening."
The 5-foot-6 Houts already had a reputation as a remarkable ball-handler when she took the court as a freshman at Dade, but her game was still far from complete.
"She wasn't a great shooter when she got here," Watson recalled. "She didn't have to be because she could get to the lane any time she wanted. But she wanted to be the best, so by the time she left here she was a great shooter."
Though there were a myriad of Houts highlights to choose from, both Watson and predecessor Gene Durden immediately think of two that stand out. The first was at Armuchee when she was a sophomore. The Indians had just taken the lead when star Abby Hand hit a jump shot in the final minute.
"Armuchee was so loaded and we were fighting for the region championship," recalled Durden, now coach of highly ranked Buford. "I think there were 15 seconds to go and I was trying to get Ashley to the sideline to call time out when an Armuchee girl jumps out in front of her. She blows by her, then another girl steps in front and she goes past her and lays it in on the other side of the basket.
"You just don't find a sophomore who can do those types of things."
The other highlight has already reached legend status in Trenton. During her junior season, which ended in the state final, Dade played top-five-ranked Model in the region final in a classic shootout. It went back and forth, with Houts consistently beating double and triple teams. Down the stretch she hit three 3-pointers from 25 feet and finished with 45 of Dade's 53 points in a seven-point win.
"The thing I remember from that night," Watson said, "was that Ashley kept stepping back as the pressure mounted and kept hitting big shots. The Model kids just looked at their coach as if to say, 'What can we do?' That night there was nothing anybody could do."
Houts ended her prep career with back-to-back state Class AA Player of the Year awards, earned McDonald's All-American honors as a senior, was a two-time AAU All-American, was a rare four-time Times Free Press all-star (and two-time Player of the Year) and even was voted Dade County's homecoming queen.
As the current UGA junior continues to garner more widespread attention, she has stayed grounded. Watson recalled another story that shows just what Houts means to her close community.
"We had a special needs kid who wanted an autograph from her," Watson said. "We set it up at one of our feeder schools and Ashley came up and spent the entire day with the kid. She's just a special person and real example to the community. She's earned everything she has."