A'ja Wilson keeps cap on patient pen
Memo to college basketball coaches who want to sign A'ja Wilson, the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz 2014 class.
Don't talk to her about football.
"I love football -- don't get me wrong," said Wilson, a 6-foot-5 forward for Heathwood Hall Episcopal School (Columbia, S.C.). "I just don't want to be taken to a football game on a recruiting trip.
"I look at all the fans at football games and say, 'They need to be at our basketball games.' "
Football, in a way, is one reason Wilson is bypassing this week's early signing period. She will instead wait for what the NCAA calls its "regular" period -- April 16 to May 21.
Wilson wants to take her official visits during basketball season, when she can see how the coaches run their teams and when she can soak in the environment at the games.
"I want to go to the locker room and see how they coach at halftime and before and after games," said Wilson, who wants to major in sports administration and minor in psychology.
"And the atmosphere is huge for me. At Heathwood, we play off the crowd. If no one is at a game, I'm like, 'Who died? What am I playing in front of?' "
Wilson said she has received home visits from coaches representing Tennessee, Connecticut, Baylor, North Carolina and Rutgers. She said a Louisville representative came to her school.
Still, she will wait until after Christmas to come up with her seven or eight finalists, which is not as easy as it sounds, considering she has had hundreds of scholarship offers.
Wilson, 17, said there are four large bins in her living room, all of them stuffed full of letters from colleges.
"The bins are the size of a recliner," Wilson said with a laugh. "It's crazy. But it's a blessing to have this opportunity, and I try to read the letters a little bit each day. It takes time."
There's a reason why those bins are full, and it has to do with Wilson's talent. She was South Carolina's co-player of the year in 2012 and 2013, sharing the honor with Amber Campbell, a 5-8 guard for Northwood Academy (Charleston, S.C.) who has committed to Wake Forest.
Wilson was also the South Carolina female prep athlete of the year in 2013, all-state in volleyball as a sophomore and two-time winner of the South Carolina Independent Schools' player of the year honor.
She concentrated on basketball last season, but she played soccer as a freshman and competed in track as a sophomore, breaking the school record in the 100-meter dash.
Wilson has played varsity basketball since the eighth grade, and last season she averaged 22 points, 15 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists and 3 blocks for a 27-7 team that finished second at state.
"She's 6-4, but she handles like a guard," Heathwood coach John O'Cain said of his star, who is now is listed at 6-foot-5. "If you put someone smaller on her, she knows how to post up. If you put someone bigger, she will face up and take her to the basket. She's a tough matchup."
Heathwood has finished in the final four every year since Wilson arrived on varsity. But the school hasn't won a state title in more than two decades.
This could be the year, though, considering Wilson is one of six seniors on the roster.
"We'll definitely be the favorites," O'Cain said.
O'Cain said Wilson, a left-hander, must continue to improve her right hand, and she needs to get stronger, which he feels will happen naturally as she begins a weight-training program in college.
Wilson, whose father, Roscoe, was a 6-8 forward who played pro ball for a decade in Europe, has attended Heathwood since the first grade. O'Cain, who teaches middle school physical education at Heathwood, began to notice her in the fifth grade.
"She was a head taller than everyone else, and she had this big ol' smile," O'Cain said. "You could tell she loved the game."
O'Cain said Wilson would have played varsity in the seventh grade if South Carolina rules had allowed it. Instead, she settled for becoming an instant starter the next year, averaging 14 points and eight rebounds.
Wilson spent this past summer winning a gold medal along with her U.S. teammates as they competed in the U19 world championships in Lithuania.
She was one of six high school kids on a team that went 9-0 and featured collegiate stars such as UConn's Breanna Stewart, who was the MVP, and Alexis Jones of Duke.
Wilson fit in well, averaging 10.9 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds. She also led the team with 15 blocks and added nine steals while averaging just 16.6 minutes per game.
It was obviously a great and memorable summer for Wilson. But playing for Team USA set back her decision-making process on college.
"June and July were supposed to be my months to take college visits," Wilson said. "But because of playing for Team USA, my schedule didn't allow it. ... I'm not waiting just to be waiting."
But the bottom line is that she'll be worth the wait. O'Cain said he has been coaching for 23 years and has never had another player even close to being as good as Wilson.
"She's a superstar without the superstar attitude," he said. "She's very coachable.
"I think she will play pro ball and the Olympics, too -- if she wants to. But I think she will go even farther in life than she will in basketball."