It was maybe her first or second practice as a fifth grader with her new Kids Unlimited teammates as far as Kylie Towry can recall.

It was maybe her first or second practice as a fifth grader with her new Kids Unlimited teammates as far as Kylie Towry can recall.

During a break in the action, she and some teammates picked up a basketball and started chucking up 3-pointers. The only difference? Towry's shots kept going in.

Light bulb.

"Before then, I never really thought of myself as a shooter and I realized I liked that and I wanted to work on that," says Towry.

And work at it she has, much to the delight — and sometimes chagrin — of her head coach back then and still to this day.

"She's going to give you 100 percent outside of practice time," says South Medford girls basketball coach Tom Cole. "She is a kid who will want to come in daily each week at 6:30 or 7 in the morning to get up 500 to 1,000 shots. She's committed to that."

"If there's ever been a struggle it's because she pushes me to have to get out of my comfort schedule to unlock the gym," Cole adds with a laugh. "As a coach, it's everything you want from a player when they're saying, 'Look, I want to come into the gym, can you open the gym,' but the irony is it stretches out your capacity because I've got to figure a way to get the gym open at 6:30 or 7 in the morning because that's what she wanted to do and she's committed to doing that "… and she does that all year long."

Whatever the price either player or coach has paid, it's definitely been rewarded. Towry enters tonight's home game against Grants Pass as the leading scorer in the Southern Oregon Hybrid at 18.5 points per game, putting the 5-foot-8 junior in prime position for a third straight season as her conference's top scorer.

"You've got to practice and work on what you want to be good at, and that's what I wanted to be good at," Towry says of her scoring prowess. "Every time I do go into the gym and I work out I remember that this is for my goal and for what I want. This is not only to help my team, it's to help me be the player I want to be."

During those early-morning sessions, Towry is as focused as most are during games. From ballhandling drills to shots from all around the court, there's a purpose to all she does and hardly a moment wasted.

"In today's culture of youth athletes, it's rare to find those that are willing to go above and beyond like that," says Cole. "She's a competitor. I joke around that nobody hates losing more than me, but she's a close second."

It's one of the reasons why Towry trains so hard to hone her craft. No one is harder on themselves than she is when the shots aren't going in, although fortunately for the Panthers, that's not very often. She's shooting 59 percent (79-for-134) from inside the arc and 43 percent (43-for-100) from 3-point range. She's also converted 30 of 38 free throws (79 percent) for the top-ranked and undefeated Panthers (17-0, 6-0 SOH).

"She is arguably one of the best shooters in the state," insists Cole. "You would have to put her in a conversation as one of the top shooters in the entire state."

Unsatisfied with that title, Cole and his assistant coaches have pushed Towry to work harder than ever before to become more than just a shooter as she hopefully prepares for a run at the college level.

"I think my game's more experienced now and gone to another level," says Towry, who has been a starter since she stepped on the South Medford campus. "As a freshman I kinda just saw myself as a shooter but now I'm expanding my game and trying to work to get to the hoop instead of just settling for outside shots every time. Now it's like a different world. Instead of feeling the pressure to not mess up as a freshman, now it's more about stepping up as a junior to help other people and have more of a leadership role."

Making that transition easier is the fact that Towry has played with most of her Panther teammates since she was in elementary school, and that group is as rich in talent as any in the state.

"It's fun and it's comfortable (to play on this team) because we have team chemistry that not very many teams have," says Towry, who was a first-team all-conference pick in her prior two campaigns. "We've played together for so long and we know each other like the back of our hands. We know when someone's down and we know when something's going on and we can feed off that. Having a strong chemistry like that, we play together really well."

Fellow junior point guard Yaremi Mejia averages 9.4 points, 6.3 assists and 3.3 steals per game, while sophomore Ashley Bolston averages 11.5 points, 4.1 assists, 4.5 steals and 5.7 rebounds and freshman Andee Ritter is netting 13.6 points and three steals per game.

Not to be forgotten in the equation is Stanford-bound 6-foot-5 senior Tess Picknell, who returned Tuesday from an ankle injury but averages 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds, and junior Luisa Tago, who averages 4.9 rebounds and is the glue to a lot of what the Panthers accomplish on both ends of the court.

"For Kylie this year, she's learning to accept that she doesn't need to be defined by scoring alone," says Cole. "I think at the younger ages she felt like that's who she was as a player, that if she wasn't scoring then maybe she's not having success. But now that we have more weapons now and others who can score and do things, it's forced her to have to learn to play different roles."

Having to adapt has taken some time and is still a work in progress, according to Towry, but it's something she's happy to do if it's going to help take the Panthers to the next level.

As the youngest of four Towry girls who have come through South Medford — Marissa, Kinzie, Kandra and Kylie — she tagged along to more than her fair share of games where she saw her siblings come up short on the scoreboard. In her short time at South, she's been part of a cast that last year earned its first league title since 1994 and advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2002.

"I think we're more proud than anything," Towry says of the team's current No. 1 ranking. "It's good to know that we've come from being at the bottom of the food chain from where this program was to now we're at the top and we can keep on building and building and going even further."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry