FAIRMONT - Mitch Pfingsten's interest in basketball started with a Little Tikes hoop and a rubber ball.
With his senior year fast approaching, the three-year Fairmont varsity starting shooting guard is hoping that all of his years of hard work can lead to a collegiate hardwood career.
In his second year on the Southwest Minnesota Stars select basketball team, Pfingsten is making the most of his opportunities to impress college coaches this summer.
ON TARGET — Fairmont guard Mitch Pfingsten (middle) flips home a runner during regular-season basketball action last winter. Pfingsten continues to hone his hoops skills by playing for a select team this summer. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"Our coach is from Sioux Falls (S.D.) and during the school season, he travels around and watches our high school games and picks a team of nine players for the summer," said Pfingsten. "The team plays in eight tournaments, and it's probably between 40 or 50 games against other select teams."
With teammates from Marshall, Mountain Lake, Jackson and Worthington, Pfingsten and the Stars have been challenging some of the top teams in the nation in tournaments.
After traveling to Milwaukee last weekend and Minneapolis this week, Pfingsten and the Stars will jet out to Las Vegas for the last and biggest tournament of the summer.
"We practice once or twice a week and then travel for the tournaments," said Pfingsten. "There are usually a lot of college scouts that come to the tournaments, so it's a great way to get an opportunity to play in front of them."
Despite the added pressure, combined with tougher competition at the select level, Pfingsten has enjoyed competing against the nation's top recruits.
"With all the scouts there and playing against guys that you've seen on websites or on TV for top recruits can be kind of intimidating at first," said Pfingsten. "But once the game gets going and you're playing, I guess you let your instincts take over and it's just playing the game."
The three-time all-South Central Conference selection has had numerous colleges express interest in his record-setting high school career.
Pfingsten is currently No. 3 all-time in scoring for Fairmont with 1,401 points. He also had the Cardinals' second-best single-season point total of 621 points and the single-season scoring average of 21.4 points.
The two-time Sentinel All-Area Player of the Year and three time All-Area selection shot 45.2 percent from the floor, including 32.5 percent from 3-point range and 75.9 percent from the free throw line.
While the two-time Minnesota Associated Press honorable mention selection excels on offense, this summer he has had his focus on defense.
"This summer I'm been working on skill development, working on a lot of different things offensively and my strength and conditioning," said Pfingsten. "But I've been really focused on my defense, trying to become a better overall defender, especially of the elite level players. In order to play in college, you have to be a solid overall player, and that is what I have been trying to improve on this summer."
The taller players that Pfingsten has gone up against in the tournaments has also helped him to develop his range and shooting skills.
"In these tournaments, the speed and physicality of the game are way higher (than high school). Driving into the lane for a layup doesn't happen. Everything is literally played above the rim," said Pfingsten. "Without the ability to do that, I've started to work more on my pull-ups and coming off screens to get a shot off without it being blocked."
When he's not on the road or in the air traveling to the next tournament, Pfingsten keeps his focus on the hardwood, working out two or three times a week in the gym at Fairmont High School and making any needed adjustments to his potent shot.
"My dad played college basketball and that is how I got started playing. There isn't a time that I can remember that I didn't play," said Pfingsten. "Now my dad will come into the gym with me, he's my shot doctor, if I need to make any changes or if it gets a little off."
At the college level, Pfingsten knows that his role on the court might change, he may become strictly a shooting guard or more of a point guard, but as long as he can continue to play, it will be worthwhile.
"I have always had a ball in my hand, always worked on my ball-handling and playing basketball. I've played other sports, but basketball is my passion," said Pfingsten, who has also excelled in golf, baseball and football during his prep career. "In college, I know that what position I am might change, but either way it's fine with me as long as I can continue to play the game."
Pfingsten hopes this summer's work and the experience with the Stars can help him finish off his high school career strongly and solidify a successful college career.
"I would like to stay close to the Midwest to play basketball, so that my family and friends can come watch games if they want," said Pfingsten. "But playing college basketball has been my dream since I started to play and getting a chance to do that would be great."