Dawn Staley's stellar 2014 class was capped off in the biggest way possible on Wednesday afternoon, as Columbia (S.C.) Heathwood Hall's A'ja Wilson announced her intentions to sign with the University of South Carolina during a ceremony at her school.
""It was just really a great program," Wilson said afterwards. "There's just no place like home. They're on the rise. Coach Staley's done such a great job turning the program around. I thought that was the best fit.
The McDonald's All-American, ranked as the number one prospect in the country by ESPNHoopGurlz regardless of position, drew scholarship offers from across the country. Her personal final four consisted of Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee and the Gamecocks beat out all of them, primarily the Tar Heels down the stretch, to land the local product.
When did Wilson make the decision?
"Maybe the night before, two nights before. My mind has been all over the place. I prayed about it a lot. I think Monday I didn't say a word. Things got a lot clearer for me. My parents helped me a lot. It was very tough for me because it was four great programs. The great part was getting to know the coaches, talking with the coaches. The visits really helped me a lot, and my mom's spreadsheets," she laughed.
While Staley's program has improved by leaps and bounds since the Hall of Famer's arrival in Columbia, Wilson took notice of the vision that Staley has for the program and the things that have been accomplished along the way.
"I've watched Coach Staley when she first got here, when there was no one in the stands. Winning the big stuff is great, but seeing the little things, that's what counts to me. She turned it around and they're on the rise for something great. I'm so glad that I'm blessed to be a part of it.
Wilson led the 2013-14 Lady Highlanders to the SCISA AAA State Championship with an overtime victory over Northwood Academy. The 6-foot-5 wing/post player averaged 35 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, and three steals, en route to becoming one of the most decorated prep athletes ever from the Palmetto State. Her 2014 list of awards include the '13-'14 SCISA State Player of the Year, '14 Gatorade State Player of the Year, '14 WBCA National Player of the Year, '14 Naismith National HS Player of the Year, '14 Parade All-American National Player of the Year, and a '14 McDonald's All-American.
Wilson joins an already-stellar signing class for the Gamecocks. The four other prospects already on board are headlined by Charlotte's Jatarie White, ranked by both ESPNHoopGurlz and ProspectsNation.com as the number one center prospect nationally. New York guard Bianca Cuevas is ranked as high as number 18 overall nationally by ProspectsNation.com. Both White and Cuevas joined Wilson in participating in the McDonald's All-American Game earlier this month. Another Columbia product, Dreher guard Kaydra Duckett, is ranked by ESPNHoopGurlz as the sixth-best point guard in the country and the class is rounded out by New Jersey guard Doniyah Cliney.
Wilson understands that with a highly-ranked class and plenty of talent on the current roster returning that expectations will be high. She seems to welcome the challenge.
"My goal is to win a national championship. I think we can accomplish that goal. That's our mindset and that's why Coach Staley is such a great coach because that's her mindset as well. A lot of expectations come with a great team. We're just going to take it in stride."
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