A’ja Wilson’s Final Four

April 15, 2014 

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Top national recruit A’ja Wilson makes her decision today. The State’s David Cloninger looks at the pros and cons of each school on her list.

She’ll win, and win a lot. The Huskies not only won their second straight national championship this year, they won their ninth overall title to become the national leader. UConn has notched five perfect seasons during this run and has become a WNBA launching pad. Plus, they’re losing two starters, a 6-foot-5 center and a 5-8 guard. Wilson, who can play inside and out, could start right away.

Storrs is seven states away. That’s costly for family wishing to see her play. Wilson has always been very active in her community and wouldn’t have the strong circle of familiarity that she’s had throughout her life.

It’s close to home and the Tar Heels are an up-and-coming team. They lose no seniors and with the way they rotate their starting lineup, Wilson has a chance to step right in. Wilson could play outside and offer an outside shooter to complement Diamond DeShields, or play inside and team with 6-2 Xylina McDaniel and 6-3 Stephanie Mavunga.

The Tar Heels will win, but how much (i.e., postseason) is the question. The Heels lost 10 games this year despite getting to the Elite Eight. Contending with Notre Dame, Maryland, Duke, NC State and now Louisville in the rough-and-tumble ACC, it may be tough to advance in the NCAA tournament.

The Gamecocks took a large step this year, rising from a strong team to one knocking on the door of the elite. They’re going to be amazingly talented next year with or without Wilson – but with her, they could legitimately be penciled in for the Final Four. All of her family and friends could see her play, including her grandmother, without having to sacrifice a lot of money and/or difficulty with travel. Wilson could be the linchpin to turning Dawn Staley’s program into a juggernaut, and add the piece to the program that the other three already have – a national title.

A starting assignment may be hard to come by at first. Wilson is used to being the star, and with every starter and the best sixth woman in the league returning, it’s hard to see how Wilson would start right away, although she would most assuredly play. The hometown factor is good and bad -- good for familiarity, bad if she wants to leave the nest. Columbia native McDaniel said she chose UNC because she wanted to get out of familiar surroundings. Would Wilson want that, too?

A chance to join the Big Orange Line. A beeline to the pros, and a guarantee of winning a lot of games during her career. It’s only a four-hour drive from Columbia and Tennessee would play a lot of other teams that are close trips for Wilson’s family.

Only one starter is leaving, and that’s the point guard. Wilson may not have a chance to start right away. Plus, while Tennessee is still a phenomenal program, it’s been six years since its last Final Four appearance (previous longest stretch: three). The Lady Volunteers, a program that prides itself on national championships, have been passed by UConn. They’re plenty good, but are they as elite as they used to be?

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