Top women's basketball recruit A'ja Wilson picks South Carolina

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley yells during the second half of a regional semifinal game against North Carolina at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Stanford, Calif., Sunday, March 30, 2014. North Carolina won 65-58. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley yells during the second half of a regional semifinal game against North Carolina at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Stanford, Calif., Sunday, March 30, 2014. North Carolina won 65-58. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By Dan Fleser

fleserd@knoxnews.com

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).

© 2014 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 32

ray61 writes:

Sure hate we missed this one. At least she didn't go to UConn.

Theo writes:

Bummer, not surprised after reading the ESPN article about her. Evidently a bit of a home body.
Glad it's not UC, makes the SEC stronger, which is good for us. Who will be freshman of the year next year? Alexa, Jaimie or A'Ja? Should be fun.

MikeNPS writes:

Even though the Lady Vols will have to compete against her at South Carolina, I am glad she came to the SEC and did not go to UConn.

MaxVolFan writes:

Its time to get to work Lady Vols! No offseason! We got work to do. USC is now a serious threat to win multiple SEC titles . Should be a very interesting couple years in the conference. Glad she didn't go to Uconn. I expect Harrison to develop a serious jumper and be more agile like an Alyssa Thomas. Russells time to get stronger and learn that screen game that got Dolson a high pick. All this must be taught by our coaches. Its time to step up. Too much talent to be mediocre anymore.

CaptainPicard writes:

South Carolina is the best place for this young lady.

MichaelL writes:

I suppose that it's unanimous among UT fans- disappointed not to get her, but glad UCONN didn't.
I said before that I thought that it would be UCONN or USC. The reason- UNC' coaching situation is up in the air with Hatcher's illness. UT unfortunately seems to be a fading program. UCONN could almost guarantee her a national championship. USC is close to home, plus an up and coming program with real national championship potential. That's the way I see it.

longandstraight writes:

Would rather have her @ UConn than USC. At USC, UT is probably going to have to play against her 2-3 times per year and @ UConn maybe just once or not at all, unless Holly develops some guts and decides to play the best. She will come nearer reaching her full potential @ UConn or USC than UT. UT coaching staff needs to go to work and develop some of this so called talent they have.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to MaxVolFan:

Its time to get to work Lady Vols! No offseason! We got work to do. USC is now a serious threat to win multiple SEC titles . Should be a very interesting couple years in the conference. Glad she didn't go to Uconn. I expect Harrison to develop a serious jumper and be more agile like an Alyssa Thomas. Russells time to get stronger and learn that screen game that got Dolson a high pick. All this must be taught by our coaches. Its time to step up. Too much talent to be mediocre anymore.

Alyssa Thomas, along with Chiney Ogwumike, showed a player like Harrison what is possible for a player of her size in today's game. She is no longer limited to pounding on the blocks IF she takes the time to master some moves at the high post and on the baseline. She already has a decent face-up jumper, but she didn't use it much and she needs to be able to combine it with the ability to drive the hoop with authority if defenders come out on her. As you suggest, it will be up to the coaches at least to encourage her to learn that kind of game. Russell needs both a stronger lower body to hold up in the post and stronger hands to catch tough passes in traffic. The next generation of the women's game may see players like Russell move farther out on the floor as well, but for now she can be a rare true low post presence that could free Izzy--and possibly even Bashaara--to expand her game.

WaitUntilNextYear writes:

The hatred for UCONN in Lady Vol land has reinforced the idea why so many fans are idiots. SC is loaded next year with a tenacious coach. Be careful what you are so gleeful about! The torch may be passed in the direction of Columbia.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to MichaelL:

I suppose that it's unanimous among UT fans- disappointed not to get her, but glad UCONN didn't.
I said before that I thought that it would be UCONN or USC. The reason- UNC' coaching situation is up in the air with Hatcher's illness. UT unfortunately seems to be a fading program. UCONN could almost guarantee her a national championship. USC is close to home, plus an up and coming program with real national championship potential. That's the way I see it.

IMHO, it is too early to call UT a "fading program" on the basis of a team that had ONE senior on it. I would agree that the LVs might be sliding back if they don't make a strong run next year with all the talent and experience they have and with Holly entering her third year as a head coach. Ordinarily, I would say even to myself, "What?; I'm even THINKING about giving up on a THIRD-YEAR coach?" But Holly is or should be more than a third-year coach; not many possible successors have had as much time at the elbow of the greatest women's coach EVER. Time to show this year what she has learned.

underthehill writes:

I hoped but did not think she would chose the Lady Vols for several reasons.. the first being S Car is her home and S Car proved this year they are on the way up and Wilson will be their local hero..nothing wrong with that.. I expect the Lady Vols to be a much better team next year..Russell and Reynolds really came on strong at end of the year..

Theo writes:

in response to MichaelL:

I suppose that it's unanimous among UT fans- disappointed not to get her, but glad UCONN didn't.
I said before that I thought that it would be UCONN or USC. The reason- UNC' coaching situation is up in the air with Hatcher's illness. UT unfortunately seems to be a fading program. UCONN could almost guarantee her a national championship. USC is close to home, plus an up and coming program with real national championship potential. That's the way I see it.

If that's the way you see it - get some new glasses. LOL. No way a fading program. We had the #1 last year and have two McD AA coming in. Including the winner of the skills and 3 pt shooting contest.
Strength in the conference is good for us and further serves to isolate UC in a weak "conference". I can't even figure out who is in that conference (American Athletic?).
My view was that the Lady Vols played some of their best basketball in several years this past year and are loaded with young talent.

CaptainPicard writes:

in response to MichaelL:

I suppose that it's unanimous among UT fans- disappointed not to get her, but glad UCONN didn't.
I said before that I thought that it would be UCONN or USC. The reason- UNC' coaching situation is up in the air with Hatcher's illness. UT unfortunately seems to be a fading program. UCONN could almost guarantee her a national championship. USC is close to home, plus an up and coming program with real national championship potential. That's the way I see it.

I don't think UT is a fading program. I believe the LVs are in the same situation as UNC. Holly has not proven that she is a quality coach despite a 2 year won-loss record of 56-14 plus a SEC regular season and a SEC conference championship. I knows this is a paradoxical statement. Much of her success is attributed to the abundance of talent in the LVs roster.

MaxVolFan writes:

in response to Theo:

If that's the way you see it - get some new glasses. LOL. No way a fading program. We had the #1 last year and have two McD AA coming in. Including the winner of the skills and 3 pt shooting contest.
Strength in the conference is good for us and further serves to isolate UC in a weak "conference". I can't even figure out who is in that conference (American Athletic?).
My view was that the Lady Vols played some of their best basketball in several years this past year and are loaded with young talent.

UT should be in good shape for years to come . With great recruiters like Kyra and Dean we should always stay in the mix to het good players. I will even go as far as saying Holly will maintain a .800+ winning percentage for a couple yrs. The question is will we win another NC? Its possible but the level of discipline and team ball not me ball has to improve.

Theo writes:

in response to WaitUntilNextYear:

The hatred for UCONN in Lady Vol land has reinforced the idea why so many fans are idiots. SC is loaded next year with a tenacious coach. Be careful what you are so gleeful about! The torch may be passed in the direction of Columbia.

Your constant negativity has a familiar ring to it. I noticed on the men's board someone asked if you were the erstwhile bitter baby brother of a UT legend. Could it be or are you just that negative generally?

Theo writes:

in response to MaxVolFan:

UT should be in good shape for years to come . With great recruiters like Kyra and Dean we should always stay in the mix to het good players. I will even go as far as saying Holly will maintain a .800+ winning percentage for a couple yrs. The question is will we win another NC? Its possible but the level of discipline and team ball not me ball has to improve.

I really agree with your comment regarding team ball. I know lots of folks got aggravated with Meighan for shooting so much but I think there was a problem with other kids not demanding the ball as well. Sometimes just too willing to watch Meighan either dazzle or flame out. Would love to see some more motion sets with crisp passing. We'll see.

TopperHarry writes:

We will never be able to go for another nc with the assit. coaches that we have now. Lockwood has never played the post position and cannot coach it. Period

underthehill writes:

in response to TopperHarry:

We will never be able to go for another nc with the assit. coaches that we have now. Lockwood has never played the post position and cannot coach it. Period

Have you ever listened to Lockwood being interviewed..he may know more about the game than Holly and the rest of the staff combined..and he may be the best at scouting prospects..I think he was looking at Russell when he spotted Reynolds..Reynolds has the talent to be among the best in college basketball if she continues to work hard..just my opinion ..you are way off base about the asst. coaches..

Slats writes:

Bad choice A'ja but I can understand you choosing the home State!

oldster writes:

The Lady Vols have lost their status in the nation, and now, it appears they may be losing it in the conference as well. Hopefully, this number one recruit is no better than last year's.

TopperHarry writes:

in response to underthehill:

Have you ever listened to Lockwood being interviewed..he may know more about the game than Holly and the rest of the staff combined..and he may be the best at scouting prospects..I think he was looking at Russell when he spotted Reynolds..Reynolds has the talent to be among the best in college basketball if she continues to work hard..just my opinion ..you are way off base about the asst. coaches..

I have personally talked to Lockwood in Greenville SC at SEC. More to it than a interview. Has he taught the post girls to draw fouls. Screen for each other. Box out with authority. Move to get open.He had a whole year with Russell( no. one recruit) Did not do much for Graves this year.

magicbyswh#221420 writes:

When Holly gets fired Dawn Staley is who we should go after.

ModelMaker writes:

in response to underthehill:

Have you ever listened to Lockwood being interviewed..he may know more about the game than Holly and the rest of the staff combined..and he may be the best at scouting prospects..I think he was looking at Russell when he spotted Reynolds..Reynolds has the talent to be among the best in college basketball if she continues to work hard..just my opinion ..you are way off base about the asst. coaches..

I agree with TopperHarry. I don't think Lockwood is a good coach either. He may be able to recruit with his gift to gab and is still riding Pat's coattails, but coach? He couldn't even teach Glory Johnson how to fake a basketball, couldn't teach Izzy how to block a shot without fouling, Graves I thought went backwards and look at Russell; I didn't think he got the most out of her either. Look at Dolson for Uconn. Look how many shots she blocked this year and the way she would get the pass inside on a consistent basis (you have to work on passing everyday to do it right). Dolson was able to block shot's and was able to stay in the game 30 min. or more most every game. I think Izzy is just as good or maybe better than Dolson but you would never know it. When Pat Summitt stepped down I was one of the ones that thought either Nikki Caldwell or Dawn Staley would be the best fit for Tennessee and if my memory serves me correctly you thought the same thing. All I know is that SC is definitely on the up swing and is going to be real hard to beat next year. It kind of makes you wonder where we would be right now if Hart had chosen Staley or Nikki Caldwell (I still think Nikki Caldwell is an excellent coach) like a lot of poster's suggested, including you.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ModelMaker:

I agree with TopperHarry. I don't think Lockwood is a good coach either. He may be able to recruit with his gift to gab and is still riding Pat's coattails, but coach? He couldn't even teach Glory Johnson how to fake a basketball, couldn't teach Izzy how to block a shot without fouling, Graves I thought went backwards and look at Russell; I didn't think he got the most out of her either. Look at Dolson for Uconn. Look how many shots she blocked this year and the way she would get the pass inside on a consistent basis (you have to work on passing everyday to do it right). Dolson was able to block shot's and was able to stay in the game 30 min. or more most every game. I think Izzy is just as good or maybe better than Dolson but you would never know it. When Pat Summitt stepped down I was one of the ones that thought either Nikki Caldwell or Dawn Staley would be the best fit for Tennessee and if my memory serves me correctly you thought the same thing. All I know is that SC is definitely on the up swing and is going to be real hard to beat next year. It kind of makes you wonder where we would be right now if Hart had chosen Staley or Nikki Caldwell (I still think Nikki Caldwell is an excellent coach) like a lot of poster's suggested, including you.

I get most of what you are saying, but you are comparing the senior Dolson to freshmen and sophomores. Dolson wasn't "all that" as a freshman, as both she and Geno have said. No question the LVs need to tighten up on their fundamentals in several areas, as well as come up with some more effective half-court sets. As I have said before, if the LVs don't make a pretty strong run next year with their blend of returning talent, experience, and promising newcomers, Holly's seat could well be heating up.

However, I'm not sure coaches deserve all the credit when players excel and I'm not sure they deserve all the blame if players don't progress or backslide. In the first instance, players have to work on their own to improve their individual skills; there just isn't enough time to do a lot of individual work during team practice. I got a few hints that some of the players weren't putting in as much individual work as the coaches might have liked, though some clearly did. Harrison, for example, extended her effective shooting range by a good 10 feet over what she could do last year; now she just needs to add the pump-fake and drive to that better jumper. It is up to the coaches to create that expectation for her and to put her in an offensive system that gives her those opportunities.

As for Russell, she was a vastly more effective player in the last month or so than she was early in the season. Maybe it was good coaching taking effect or maybe it was just greater confidence as she gained more experience. Graves just didn't seem to play with the same energy and confidence this past year as she did as a freshman. Maybe she had a nagging injury, a lingering illness, or personal problems of some sort, and no program is going to be completely forthcoming about those kinds of situations. If any of those things were the problem, I'm not sure what difference coaching could have made.

ModelMaker writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I get most of what you are saying, but you are comparing the senior Dolson to freshmen and sophomores. Dolson wasn't "all that" as a freshman, as both she and Geno have said. No question the LVs need to tighten up on their fundamentals in several areas, as well as come up with some more effective half-court sets. As I have said before, if the LVs don't make a pretty strong run next year with their blend of returning talent, experience, and promising newcomers, Holly's seat could well be heating up.

However, I'm not sure coaches deserve all the credit when players excel and I'm not sure they deserve all the blame if players don't progress or backslide. In the first instance, players have to work on their own to improve their individual skills; there just isn't enough time to do a lot of individual work during team practice. I got a few hints that some of the players weren't putting in as much individual work as the coaches might have liked, though some clearly did. Harrison, for example, extended her effective shooting range by a good 10 feet over what she could do last year; now she just needs to add the pump-fake and drive to that better jumper. It is up to the coaches to create that expectation for her and to put her in an offensive system that gives her those opportunities.

As for Russell, she was a vastly more effective player in the last month or so than she was early in the season. Maybe it was good coaching taking effect or maybe it was just greater confidence as she gained more experience. Graves just didn't seem to play with the same energy and confidence this past year as she did as a freshman. Maybe she had a nagging injury, a lingering illness, or personal problems of some sort, and no program is going to be completely forthcoming about those kinds of situations. If any of those things were the problem, I'm not sure what difference coaching could have made.

No, I am not comparing Dolson with freshman and Sophomores. I am comparing Dolson with Izzy. As for the freshman and sophomores, I was talking about Lockwoods ability to teach them and get the most out of them. I will agree with you that these kids need to be working in the summer with knowledgeable people that can help them improve and get better and if they don't know anyone then it should be up to the parents to shell it out and get someone. Either way if they are going to improve they need to learn it somewhere, either form the coach or during the summer. As for Russell I see a lot of potential in her and I thought she should have been more of a factor than she was (Two points & two rebounds against Maryland). I guess the bottom line is getting it done; and so far I haven't seen it.

Theo writes:

in response to magicbyswh#221420:

When Holly gets fired Dawn Staley is who we should go after.

When you get a brain you should post again.

RLL59 writes:

I hope all these expectations of growth from this year to next aren't just wishful thinking. Player development needs to be combined with team strategies that complement the individual talents, and lead to team cohesiveness. If both occur, the Lady Vols should be competitive with the best in the country. In my opinion, the coaches are the only ones who can make this happen. Up to now, they've been satisfied to play a game that's neither effective, nor conducive to improving individual players. Based on the last 6 seasons, this year's or next year's or the next year's recruits aren't going to change the results on their own.

underthehill writes:

in response to ModelMaker:

I agree with TopperHarry. I don't think Lockwood is a good coach either. He may be able to recruit with his gift to gab and is still riding Pat's coattails, but coach? He couldn't even teach Glory Johnson how to fake a basketball, couldn't teach Izzy how to block a shot without fouling, Graves I thought went backwards and look at Russell; I didn't think he got the most out of her either. Look at Dolson for Uconn. Look how many shots she blocked this year and the way she would get the pass inside on a consistent basis (you have to work on passing everyday to do it right). Dolson was able to block shot's and was able to stay in the game 30 min. or more most every game. I think Izzy is just as good or maybe better than Dolson but you would never know it. When Pat Summitt stepped down I was one of the ones that thought either Nikki Caldwell or Dawn Staley would be the best fit for Tennessee and if my memory serves me correctly you thought the same thing. All I know is that SC is definitely on the up swing and is going to be real hard to beat next year. It kind of makes you wonder where we would be right now if Hart had chosen Staley or Nikki Caldwell (I still think Nikki Caldwell is an excellent coach) like a lot of poster's suggested, including you.

Nothing wrong with fans having different opinions...when I first saw Izzy I thought UT had made a mistake..when I see the player she is now it is hard to believe..somebody did a pretty good job coaching her..as for Russell..she made tremendous progress this year and I expect her to get much better..as for Reynolds ...she is the only player or coach who got it right as to what their biggest problem was in the big show..they were trying to get the ball inside by passing over the top instead of having Reynolds and Carter drive the lane and pass it off..when the inside players got the ball in position to score they did a good job..the problem was so many bad passes that didn't get to the inside players..Graves had an up and down season and I can't see that it had anything to do with coaching..as for defense..I like to see inside players learn to anticipate what the offensive player is going to do and go for blocking the shot..I agree Staley is doing an excellent job and with five returning starters and the recruiting class they have..they are going to be tough..but I think the Lady Vols will be much better next year and not because of the recruiting class..I think surely the coaches will put Izzy and Russell on the floor at the same time in a double low post and have Carter and Reynolds getting them the ball..after seeing what Thomas did to Graves and Burdick..they got some work to do..bottom line for me ..I think the Lady Vols will have a better team next year than they had this year..and I think Holly and her staff are doing the best they can to make the team the best it can be...

ModelMaker writes:

in response to underthehill:

Nothing wrong with fans having different opinions...when I first saw Izzy I thought UT had made a mistake..when I see the player she is now it is hard to believe..somebody did a pretty good job coaching her..as for Russell..she made tremendous progress this year and I expect her to get much better..as for Reynolds ...she is the only player or coach who got it right as to what their biggest problem was in the big show..they were trying to get the ball inside by passing over the top instead of having Reynolds and Carter drive the lane and pass it off..when the inside players got the ball in position to score they did a good job..the problem was so many bad passes that didn't get to the inside players..Graves had an up and down season and I can't see that it had anything to do with coaching..as for defense..I like to see inside players learn to anticipate what the offensive player is going to do and go for blocking the shot..I agree Staley is doing an excellent job and with five returning starters and the recruiting class they have..they are going to be tough..but I think the Lady Vols will be much better next year and not because of the recruiting class..I think surely the coaches will put Izzy and Russell on the floor at the same time in a double low post and have Carter and Reynolds getting them the ball..after seeing what Thomas did to Graves and Burdick..they got some work to do..bottom line for me ..I think the Lady Vols will have a better team next year than they had this year..and I think Holly and her staff are doing the best they can to make the team the best it can be...

I too think there is nothing wrong with fans having different opinions because it gives one a different view of something that he or she might not have seen before. My view of Izzy is that I think someone was working with her that had a lot of knowledge of the game during the summer. Her dad could have sent here to a clinic or maybe someone in the family with some knowledge of the game worked with her allot. I would love to see Izzy and Russell in there together next year also but I have doubts that it will happen. As for Russell improving, it was very disappointing to me when she scored only two points and had two rebounds against Maryland. If she could have scored 15 points and had eight or nine rebounds we would have won the game and then I would have agreed with you that she was improving. I think those stats are pretty average for a good player in a big game. We can go on with this all day but to some it up with me, I didn't think they passed the ball well, I thought certain players were getting away with allot of stupid mistakes just because they were certain people, I didn't think the mental frame of mind was good, especially going into the big games, and I, like RLL59 , have not seen real improvement in most of the players in the last five or six years. Time will tell how this all plays out. I my be running and hide from you in the next couple of years or I my be looking you up.

Theo writes:

in response to magicbyswh#221420:

When Holly gets fired Dawn Staley is who we should go after.

When you get a brain you should post again.

TopperHarry writes:

If Hart knows anything about basketball he must make a change in women coaches. The program is going to take a big hit. Attendance will decrease. I plan to cut my seat from four to two this coming season. It is hard for me to watch kids who have played basketball since they were in fourth grade make so many mistakes. Turnovers should come only by steals. We should have a shot every time. Bad passes and such should not be. This all comes down to coaching,coaching,coaching.

MaxVolFan writes:

in response to TopperHarry:

If Hart knows anything about basketball he must make a change in women coaches. The program is going to take a big hit. Attendance will decrease. I plan to cut my seat from four to two this coming season. It is hard for me to watch kids who have played basketball since they were in fourth grade make so many mistakes. Turnovers should come only by steals. We should have a shot every time. Bad passes and such should not be. This all comes down to coaching,coaching,coaching.

And this should be a year where this team being laden with talent
Should be in the final four. We have depth, experience, and new shooters coming in with Jaime, Alexa, and Jannah. With the right conditioning and work ethic we should be able to beat everyone on on the schedule. No excuses. This team next yr will be as equally talented as Uconn . Question is will we play as a team ?

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features