It's one and fun for A'ja Wilson
It took a lot of convincing to keep A'ja Wilson on the bench that January night.
Wilson, a 6-foot-4 forward for Heathwood Hall Episcopal School (Columbia, S.C.) and the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2014 class, wasn't allowed to play against nationally ranked New Hope Christian (Thomasville, N.C.) on Jan. 10 due to a hyperextended knee.
Heathwood lost 97-25.
"I can't tell you all the facial expressions I was making on the bench," Wilson said. "I wanted to go in, but my trainer wouldn't let me. She said it wouldn't be the best thing for me. I had my uniform on, but she had me take my shoes off."
Wilson, who averages 35 points, had her shoes on Tuesday night when Heathwood (20-4) gave New Hope (29-0) a much better battle before falling 64-51.
Despite facing multiple New Hope defenders on senior night in her final home game, Wilson still produced 20 points, 18 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Her presence helped reduce New Hope's margin of victory from 72 points to 13 -- a difference of 59 points.
Heathwood senior forward Gadson Lefft, who has signed with Kennesaw State, said she was impressed with Wilson.
"After we fell behind by 20 points in the second half, she reminded us that it was senior night -- our last home game," Lefft said. "She told us to keep fighting, and right after that, we put together a 10-0 run.
"To me, she showed she was every bit the No. 1 player in the country."
The coaches at Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee surely agree. Those schools are her four finalists in a recruiting battle that won't be settled until she makes her monumental decision in April.
Wilson, who had previously said she wanted to major in sports management, is now planning to pursue a degree in psychology.
But, she insists, where she will study is not what she is focused on right now.
"With the playoffs starting next week, I just want to end my senior year with a bang," Wilson said.
"Then, in about three weeks, I will sit down with my parents and coaches and go over the pros and cons of each school and see which will be the best fit for me over the next four years.
"I'm not really worried. I think the Lord is going to put the right school in my path."
Her parents -- Roscoe Wilson Jr. and Eva Wilson -- were at Heathwood on Tuesday for senior night. Her brother, Renaldo, was there too, and they presented Wilson with a framed photo of the Heathwood team and gave her roses and daisies.
"It was a great night," said Wilson, who has a 3.0 GPA. "We played with a lot of heart."
As the No. 1 prospect in her class and the only elite 2014 recruit who has yet to commit, it would be natural if the pressure got to Wilson at times.
But Wilson said she has had fun with the recruiting process, laughing, for example, when certain colleges mailed her posters that plotted out her life down to the final detail of marrying one of her athletic crushes -- Blake Griffin of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers or Cam Newton of the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
Heathwood coach John O'Cain agrees that pressure has not been a problem for Wilson.
O'Cain noted that Wilson has improved her scoring average by 13 points from last season. She also is averaging 14 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 steals and 2 assists.
"She has exceeded expectations," O'Cain said. "She's been unreal. Her shooting percentage has improved from the mid-50s last year to about 70 percent this season. Most of her stuff comes from 16 feet and in, but she's made quite a few 3-pointers, too."
Wilson will leave Heathwood -- a school she has attended since the first grade -- as the No. 1 rebounder in program history and No. 2 in points.
Wilson has done all this despite consistently drawing double- and triple-teams and getting "hacked" often, according to O'Cain.
But the coach said Wilson never loses her composure and lets her rare athletic ability take over.
Lefft, her teammate since arriving at Heathwood last season, said she at first observed Wilson from afar.
"People focus on her height," Lefft said. "But I saw that she can handle. I've seen when they put three or four people on her and she still will go between them and get to the rim.
"People will say, 'That's just high school.' But then I've seen her in AAU, and she is still dominating."
All that is left to achieve in Wilson's dominant prep career is a state title, something that has eluded Heathwood for more than two decades.
Wilson has accomplished everything else, including winning a gold medal last summer with her USA teammates at the U19 World Championships in Lithuania. She averaged 10.9 points and led a team dominated by college stars in rebounds and blocked shots.
Heathwood has finished in the final four every year since Wilson arrived on varsity in the eighth grade.
But, still, no title yet.
Wilson said she won't make predictions, but she is confident.
After the playoffs, it will be decision time for Wilson, who said she has taken advantage of the extra time she has made for herself when she decided not to sign in November.
"I've gotten a chance to see [my finalists] play," Wilson said. "I've seen each of them at least three to five times, whether it's watching on TV or on my phone.
"It's let me see how I would fit into their systems."
Lefft, who said she got up to seven phone calls a night during her much-less-hyped recruitment, can't imagine how hectic this has been for Wilson.
"All those phone calls are time-consuming because we are students as well," Lefft said. "And everywhere we go, people want A'ja to pose for photos and sign basketballs -- not just little kids, but kids our own age and older people, too.
"But she handles it well. She handles everything well."