By Dan Fleser
The wait didn’t turn out to be worthwhile for Tennessee regarding A’ja Wilson.
The 6-foot-4 forward, the top prospect in the Class of 2014, chose South Carolina Wednesday afternoon and signed with the Gamecocks. Wilson, who is from Hopkins, S.C., revealed her choice during a school assembly at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. Her decision was part of a recruiting special on ESPNU that coincided with the first day of the spring signing period.
Tennessee was among the four finalists in the running for Wilson. The other two were national champion Connecticut and North Carolina.
Wilson led Heathwood Hall to the South Carolina Independent Schools Association Class AAA state championship this season. She averaged 34.4 points, 14.5 rebounds, 5.4 blocks, 3.2 steals and 2.3 assists per game.
“There’s no place like home,” Wilson said in explaining her choice. “There really isn’t”
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley summed up her reaction on Twitter in a single word: “Boom!!!!”
The first shock waves will be felt in the SEC. The conference regular season champions already were returning all five starters, including junior-to-be guard Tiffany Mitchell, the coaches’ pick this season as player of the year.
The Gamecocks will be adding a five-player signing class that ESPN now ranks second nationally with the addition of Wilson. Among their other two signees are 6-4 post player Jatarie White of Charlotte, N.C., who’s ranked seventh in the class, and guard Kaydra Duckett of Columbia, who’s ranked 32nd. Point guard Bianca Cuevas (Bronx, N.Y./Nazareth Regional) is ranked 35th.
Wilson, White and Cuevas were McDonald’s All-Americans.
“Coach Staley is starting something great,” Wilson said. “I want to be part of it.”
Wilson’s decision also should boost South Carolina’s national profile. The Gamecocks already were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament this season.
Tennessee, meanwhile, will add a recruiting class that’s ranked sixth nationally by HoopGurlz. The headliners are wing Jaime Nared of Porland, Ore., and guard Alexa Middleton of Murfreesboro. Both players were McDonald’s All-Americans. Nared is the sixth-ranked player in the class.
UT’s third signee, wing Kortney Dunbar from Edwardsville, Ill., is ranked No. 78 in the class.
Early Rankings: Tennessee is ranked fourth is SI.com’s “very early” top 10 rankings for next season, one spot behind South Carolina.
Overall, four SEC teams appear in the rankings. The others are Texas A&M (fifth) and Kentucky (seventh).