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Wiggins realizing her hoop dreams

Wiggins realizing her hoop dreams

Updated: August 4, 2009, 10:52 AM ET
By Matthew Wong | Special to ESPNRISE.com

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[+] EnlargeCandice Wiggins
Courtesy Kirby LeeCandice Wiggins won two California Division V state championships with La Jolla Country Day High School.

Just below the rafters inside the La Jolla Country Day School gym, there are murals of two of the most heralded athletes to come out of the small San Diego private school. One of the murals has been on the wall for years. It is the portrait of Rashaan Salaam, the University of Colorado running back who won the Heisman Trophy in 1994. The other mural was unveiled last November as a tribute to a talented and equally humble basketball player whose career continues to soar to new heights.

"That moment will always make me smile because I spent so much time in that gym," WNBA guard Candice Wiggins said on seeing her mural for the first time. "I would be in there every single day, except Sundays. But I'd come in on Sundays sometimes, too."

Wiggins is a 5-11 guard for the Minnesota Lynx playing her second season in the WNBA. In high school, she treated basketball as her part-time job and guided La Jolla to four state championship games, winning two Division V titles. She attended Stanford University, where she went on to become an All-American, leading the Cardinal to the Elite Eight in her first two seasons and then to the national championship game as a senior. Her performance earned her the NCAA's 2007-2008 Wade Trophy, which is awarded to the women's college basketball's player of the year.

Wiggins' first season in the WNBA brought a laundry list of accolades, including the 2008 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Award.

Wiggins' résumé is impressive, but not all of her dreams have been realized.

"At every level, the goal is to win a championship," she said. "When we lost the national championship game to Tennessee, I remembered it was sort of like losing the state title."

Despite her loss in the NCAA title game, Wiggins' career hasn't skipped a beat. She averaged 15.7 points per game for the Lynx as a rookie, and she is off to a fast start this season, averaging 13 points per game.

[+] EnlargeCandice Wiggins
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Minnesota Lynx took Stanford's Candice Wiggins with the third pick in the 2008 WNBA draft.

Next on Wiggins' list of goals is getting to the playoffs and wearing a championship ring by season's end. She also has Olympic gold on her mind.

"I've knocked down every goal I've worked for already, so there's no reason for me to turn back now," she said.

There's no denying that Wiggins is a marquee talent. She's noted for her blow-by speed and tenacious defense, and her 44-point, 10-rebound effort against UTEP followed by 41 points against Pittsburgh in the 2008 NCAA tournament thrust her into the national spotlight.

But what others may overlook about Wiggins is the disciplined commitment she took to academics. She is a reminder that in the development of today's student-athletes, being a student still needs to come first.

"She always felt the need to work hard in the classroom," said Terri Bamford, Wiggins' high school coach. "Her mentality that someone was always working harder than her on the court carried over to her academically."

"I was always working on my GPA, studying and playing basketball," Wiggins said. "Looking back, I wonder what I did for fun."

Wiggins also excelled at volleyball and track in high school. When she entered Stanford, Wiggins earned scholarships to play both volleyball and basketball.

"She knew that she had a lot on her platter, what with her basketball and volleyball," said Glen Pritzker, Wiggins' former teacher and mentor at La Jolla. "On campus, Candice symbolized everything we believe in as a school. She was polite, involved, and projected a passion for Country Day specifically and life generally."

It is for that reason that Wiggins' legacy lives on at her high school alma mater. Wiggins has hosted two girls' basketball camps in her name on the La Jolla campus. In the school's gym, her McDonald's All-America jersey and several other keepsakes remain on display to commemorate her achievements.

"She was such a great leader on and off the court," Bamford recalls. "With what she's accomplished at Stanford and the WNBA, she's an icon and inspiration to the players who come through our program."

As she makes her mark in professional basketball, Wiggins reminisces about her high school experience, which she describes as a "special time." It's also where the blueprint for her life's accomplishments sprang to life.

"Seeing all the pieces come together from when I was a little girl to now is incredible," Wiggins said. "Hard work definitely pays off."

Matthew Wong is a 2009 graduate of La Jolla Country Day School.
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