Heightened interest in top prospect A’ja Wilson

Courtesy Bill Cherry

A'ja Wilson isn't looking for anything specific in a college other than some buy-in for a 6-foot-4 athlete to play guard.

Until recently, A'ja Wilson was the size of an average guard.

So before every practice with her AAU team, she would work on ballhandling. When she played with her dad on the basket outside their house, he would stress dribbling.

Then, during the second semester of her freshman year, Wilson suddenly sprouted up.

"When I finally hit my growth spurt, I didn't quite notice it until I went to a friend's house," said Wilson, a junior at Heathwood Hall (Columbia, S.C.). "[Kaydra Duckett] is like a sister to me, and looking back on pictures we used to be the same height. Now when we take pictures it's like, 'What happened?' "

After growing 4 inches during that spurt to reach 6-foot-4, the Hopkins, S.C., resident still has the skills of a small guard and the athleticism that allowed her to finish third in the state in the 100-meter dash -- as an eighth-grader. But she now also has the height to battle in the post and to dunk a basketball.

That versatility makes Wilson the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2014 class and one of the most sought-after recruits in the country.

Heathwood Hall coach John O'Cain says there have been three or four college coaches at each of her games this season, and pretty much every school east of the Mississippi River has seen her play at some point. So far, she has made unofficial visits to North Carolina, South Carolina and Clemson.

O'Cain predicts that Wilson will wait until signing day of her senior year to make a decision on her future. On Monday, the junior said she hasn't started to rank the programs yet.

"Everyone's asking me what's your top 5? What's your top 10?" said Wilson, who plays club ball with the Palmetto 76ers. "I'm like, 'I really don't know.' It's jumbled up in this brain of mine.

"It's me and my parents and God and my coaches helping me make the decision, and when the time comes it comes, but I'm not really looking at schools like that."

Wilson also said she doesn't have requirements in a college such as location or style of play. Well, except for one -- growth spurt or not, she still considers herself a guard.

"I talk to coaches, they're like, 'Yeah we'll put you down in the post.' I'm like, 'Whoa, whoa, I'm a guard,' " Wilson said. "There's plenty of girls out there who love to bang. That's just not me.

"I don't really have anything in a school like, 'You have to have this in order for me to come.' I'm not really like that. I think if the coach understands how I play, we'll get together quite well."

Still, Wilson has been working on her strength, since she knows how important it will be at the next level. After a year in the weight room, she's become a more physical player, like it or not.

"She's not the one getting knocked down on the floor," O'Cain said. "She's the one knocking people down on the floor."

Bill Cherry

A'ja Wilson has grown taller, stronger and become a more physical player.

One thing that hasn't changed is her attitude. An outgoing, well-rounded teenager who loves cartoons and is involved in her church, Wilson becomes an intense competitor with the basketball in her hand.

"Off the court she's a very laid-back girl," said O'Cain, who has coached Wilson for five years. "When she steps on the court, that demeanor changes. She wants to win and she does what it takes to win."

Because of that attitude, it was especially hard for Wilson to sit out the first part of the season with a hard cast around her wrist, covering a swollen bone. She didn't want to rush the recovery process, but it clearly made her hungrier.

She came back in time for the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the week before Christmas. Wilson had 29 points, 19 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals in her first game back, a 69-65 win against Penfield (N.Y.), and put up a triple-double (19 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks) to close out the tournament against Miami (Fla.).

"I love to play basketball and I hate watching," Wilson said. "So me sitting out, oh gosh, I can't even explain how it felt to be back on the court. It feels amazing to be back."

Entering this week she is averaging 26.9 points, 15.0 rebounds, 6.7 blocks, 4.1 assists and 2.8 steals a game. Those numbers exemplify an all-around game that ensures coaches like Connecticut's Geno Auriemma and North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell will keep watching her until she makes up her mind.

Wilson said she enjoys seeing all the coaches and likes the recruiting process, making it more likely she won't be picking a school any time soon.

"I enjoy seeing them," Wilson said. "And I'm pretty sure they enjoy seeing me, too."

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