Anna Wilson dazzles in superstar's shadow
There is a tinge of awe in everything Anna Wilson's older brother says about her, and frankly it doesn't make any sense. He calls her more driven than any athlete he has ever seen, which can't possibly be true, considering whom he has been around. He told Anna's basketball coach she's the best athlete in the family, and it comes across as laughable.
"It's one of those things where you're around someone you know is going to be special," he said.
Plenty of brothers, plenty of older brothers even, look up to their sisters. But when the girl is all of 15, a high school freshman at a private school with no great hoops legacy? OK, maybe that's not even out of the realm of possibility. There have got to be a few bookworm brothers out there, guys who admire their sister's hooping ability because they themselves got two left feet, two left hands and too left out.
But this brother? No way. It's got to be a put-on, because when a guy ties the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes, which Russell Wilson did, he doesn't look up to anybody whose last name isn't Brady or Manning. Yet the more Russell talks, the more times he says with certainty Anna is going to win national championships, the more you start to wonder if the Seattle Seahawks' quarterback genuinely puts his sister's basketball career on a pedestal.
"I truly believe that she will be an All-American point guard at some big university and go on to be a Candace Parker -- a superstar-type basketball player," he said.
Russell Wilson became an NFL darling in 2012 when he rose from rookie backup to lead the Seahawks to 11 wins and a playoff victory. People loved him because he eviscerated defenses despite standing 5-feet-11 -- tiny for an NFL quarterback.
Whatever happens to Anna, hers will not be an underdog story. One of the most heralded players in her class, she's already received offers from Maryland, Wisconsin, Virginia, Marquette and Wake Forest. Maryland offered last season, when she was an eighth-grader. Duke has been sniffing around, too.
Her AAU team, Boo Williams Richmond, made the eighth-grade Division I national championship game last summer, where she had 17 assists. Because it was broadcast live on ESPN3, it gave her oldest brother Harrison Wilson IV a chance to watch her from his home in Chicago. During the game he turned to his wife and asked, "Is Anna left-handed?" Her handle with her off hand was so good Harry was legitimately confused.
More than a brother
Harry remembers Anna as a little ponytailed ball of energy. At 14 years older to the day, he wasn't around for most of her emergence. But as the first of three Wilsons through the athletic program at Collegiate School, a posh prep school in Richmond, Va., he set the standard his siblings have expanded on. It was during his own varsity basketball tenure that Anna, then just a toddler, got her first taste of the hardwood. During a game against rival St. Christopher's, Harry spotted up in the corner, took a pass and felt a tiny pair of arms around his leg; Anna had escaped her mother's clutches and run onto the court.
Harry played three sports at Collegiate; he continued varsity baseball and football 10 minutes down River Road at the University of Richmond. After graduating, he moved to Kentucky, then Chicago, where he has settled with his wife and daughter and a job selling equipment for Stryker, a medical technology manufacturer. His reunions with his larger family have come mostly during Russell's big football games.
It was during one of those visits -- at the Papajohns.com Bowl in 2008, when Russell was with NC State -- that Harrison Wilson IV's role in his sister's life was defined. Their father, Harrison Wilson III, was by this time suffering badly from diabetes, having suffered a stroke and having a leg amputated. Gazing sullenly at his oldest son from across a Birmingham hotel room, the father blurted out, "What's going to happen to Anna?" before falling silent and refusing to elaborate. Harry knew what he'd meant. With her father gone -- Harrison III succumbed to his disease two years later -- Anna needed more than a brother.
"She sees opportunities," Harry said. "That's something my brother and my sister share with my dad. My dad always had these big dreams. I wish he was here to see her be like him in that way."
Stopping and popping
Anna learned to play on the hoop in the cul-de-sac where she grew up, her father challenging her to nightly games of one-on-one after dinner. He let her win, and at age 5, she believed it. When she got older and started holding her own against the boys, he coached her at the YMCA, until he got too sick.
I truly believe that she will be an All-American point guard at some big university and go on to be a Candace Parker -- a superstar-type basketball player.Russell Wilson
Dad had been a two-sport athlete at Dartmouth, and the last cut of the San Diego Chargers in 1980, before going into law. He stood less than 6-feet, which is probably where Russell gets his infamous stature. Anna, 5-8 with feet still growing, takes after her tall mom, Tammy, with whom she lives in Richmond. Tammy, an uber-protective legal nurse consultant at the University of Virginia, was a good athlete herself and could have made the track team if not for the admonition of her grandmother that she stick to her studies. Anna's grandfather, Harrison Wilson Jr., was a football and basketball player at Kentucky State University who went on to become president of Norfolk State University.
Russell remembers peering out the window in those early days of Anna's tutelage and watching the little girl spinning in reverse layups, faking dribble drives right before going left and drilling pull-up jumpers. Minutes later he'd snap to, realizing he'd been mesmerized by this kid, nine years his junior. At the time he was embarking on his own record-setting career at Collegiate, including three state championships and a combined 107 rushing and passing touchdowns over his final two seasons. Somehow he couldn't take his eyes off a 5-year-old stopping and popping.
A leader and a player
Anna joined Collegiate much later than her brothers. Technically a very young ninth-grader, she opted to enroll as an eighth-grader to fix her age group and get acclimated to the school. Immediately she became the top dog on the varsity basketball team, assuming ballhandling duties as the starting point guard. Modeling her game after idol Steve Nash, she embraced the responsibility of controlling game situations and putting the ball in the right place. Intelligent and articulate like her brothers, she took to leadership like a chipmunk to chewing.
"During timeouts I'll grab the clipboard and draw up plays if girls don't understand what the coach is talking about," she said. "I'm very visual. I watch a lot of film by myself. I get CDs and I'll watch the game. I love watching film."
Her game is more steak than sizzle. She rarely wows with highlight-reel plays but is extremely effective in every facet of the game. She finished the varsity season with averages of 16.5 points, 6 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 5 steals.
She considers herself "more of an ACC player," but could imagine herself in the Big Ten. Her priority is a school that's near family. That bodes well for Maryland, where she has a lot of kin, and of course UVa.
That his sister wound up at Collegiate is a source of great comfort to Harry, who believes her resemblance to Russell will endear her to the school community and induce them to look after her. The Legend of Russell Wilson is certainly gaining steam there. Apocryphal stories abound on campus about his work ethic, his game exploits and how he once won a game of Connect Four in three moves.
"I don't see her having trouble with [the legacy]," said her coach, Rives Fleming. "But I can't imagine [being in her shoes]. You see people whispering and talking in the stands. I've had referees come up and ask me which one is Russell's sister. Especially around here, it's hard to ignore it. That's got to be a hard act to follow. I wouldn't want to do it. I know some of our quarterbacks that have come through Collegiate since -- there's one kid that I heard is going to Michigan, and they're still asking him, 'Why aren't you as good as Russell?' He casts a big shadow."
Anna has been hearing it for years now, ever since Russell started lighting it up at NC State. When he transferred to Wisconsin and subsequently led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl, athletic director Barry Alvarez was so impressed he promised Anna a scholarship. She figured he was joking, but a year later that offer actually arrived in the mail. So there's a good and a bad to the Wilson legacy. Anonymity will never be one of the perks. Nor will low expectations, thanks to her family's history of athletic and academic excellence (She's got a grandmother who was a college professor and an uncle who graduated from Harvard Law, for good measure). She says classmates are good about not comparing her to her famous brother too much. And everyone else says she'll have her own chapter in the Wilson book before long.
"It's like my dad always told me: Don't be afraid to excel," Russell said. "And she's not at all. She's reaching for the stars, and she'll touch them and keep going."