Tyler Ashmore’s college basketball career started in an unlikely way. It almost never happened.
Ashmore, a 2018 Centralia High School graduate, was the Tigers’ leading scorer his senior year but was getting zero interest from college teams. It wasn’t until he began going to open gyms at Centralia College that Trailblazers’ assistant coach Jonathan McMillan asked if he wanted to try out for the team. Ashmore, who had played ball his entire life, jumped at the opportunity and joined the team as a walk-on that fall.
“I always wanted to play college basketball,” Ashmore said. “I just went with it.”
He ended up starting most of the 29 games his freshman year and all 28 games as a sophomore in the post. He averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field and 36 percent from long range in 19.8 minutes per game as a freshman. As a sophomore, he averaged 10.2 points and six rebounds per game with a team-leading 31.4 minutes per game. He shot 44 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep.
Still, he wasn’t getting much interest from universities following his sophomore season. He planned to take a year off from school and basketball due to the COVID-19 pandemic, work for a year and then start looking for a roster spot at a university in 2021.
That is until Pacific Lutheran coach Chad Murray texted him in May 2020 asking if he wanted to talk about joining the Division-III Lutes.
“I kind of ignored it because I was a little scared at first,” Ashmore said.
The next day, McMillan called Ashmore and pushed him to start talking to Murray. After some deliberations with his family, Ashmore finally decided to commit.
“I ended up taking a chance and I’m glad I took it,” Ashmore said. “It was the right choice.”
Ashmore credits the importance McMillan had on his basketball career, from teaching him at middle school open gyms, to aiding his walk-on move at Centralia College and finally inspiring him to sign with PLU.
“He was always that guy that believed in me,” Ashmore said. “He wanted me to succeed and was always there to push me. It helped a lot.”
Ashmore was an easy person and player to believe in, McMillan said. Ashmore isn’t the fastest guy on the court and doesn’t have the highest vertical, but it’s his versatility and basketball IQ that sets him apart. He can play the four position and the five in a small-ball lineup. He even played point guard for the Blazers when a couple of their guards were injured. McMillan loosely compared him to a Kevin Love-type player.
“He’s quiet but he’s a leader,” McMillan said. “He’s just scratching the surface of what he can be as a player. Chad Murray at PLU has a player he can trust and put in different positions. … I thought PLU was a perfect spot for him.”
Ashmore will join a PLU team that’s coming off a 14-12 overall and 10-6 league record in the Northwest Conference, where the Lutes placed fourth. The Lutes qualified for the NWC tourney, losing to Whitworth in the semifinals. It was the team’s first postseason appearance under fourth-year coach Murray. Murray said he’s looking forward to seeing how Ashmore can help improve the team this upcoming season, especially coming in with two years of college-level experience
“Tyler brings a level of professionalism and maturity to the team that we need due to the graduation of four seniors from last year’s team,” Murray said. “He will give us a bigger body to help us on the glass while also providing another shooting threat from 3-point range. Tyler is a fantastic human being and will fit in tremendously.”
Ashmore has been on campus and in classes for the past three weeks. Basketball practice begins on Oct. 1 and the team has been spending the last few weeks hitting the gym and following COVID-19 protocol. All his classes have been through Zoom, so far.
The transition has been a bit different moving from Centralia, the town he grew up in. He doesn’t know anyone in Tacoma other than his teammates. But he’s looking forward to this new chapter in his life and what it will bring, both on and off the court.
“There’s always time to get a job and get to real adult-life stuff,” Ashmore said. “Why not enjoy it a little more and try to grow playing basketball? Coming to PLU seems like a good opportunity to grow as a person and keep playing, so it just seemed right.”