WEDDINGTON It didn’t take Weddington High girls basketball coach Ryun Cook long to figure out he had a special talent in junior All-American Stephanie Watts.
“Her freshman year, we needed her to score,” Cook said. “I remember we went to (the) Charlotte (49ers) team camp the summer before her freshman year started, and she led us in scoring the first scrimmage. At that point, I knew right away she was the kind of dynamic scorer that our program sorely needed.”
Watts, a 5-foot-10 guard, averaged 18.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.8 steals per game as a freshman, a season that landed her on the national recruiting map. She was even better as a sophomore, averaging 22.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.5 steals and 3.4 assists. College coaches regularly found Weddington High with their GPS.
Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Charlotte were on campus a lot. Georgia Tech, West Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina showed up, too.
As the season went on, Watts’ play got better. She had a career-high 50 one night against Cuthbertson.
“It’s kind of amazing to say it, but it was like she got a quiet first 42,” Cook said. “She got to 42. But I didn’t know it. I had asked my assistant coach to let me know when she got close.”
Cook was thinking, when Watts got close....to her career-high of 37.
The next night, she followed up the 50-pointer with a quadruple double against Cox Mill. North Carolina was scouting that night. Watts went for 20 points, 12 steals, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
At season’s end, she made the N.C. Associated Press All-State team. She was the N.C. Basketball Coaches District 9 player of the year. And she won the Charlotte Observer All-Region player of the year, signifying her as the best player outside Mecklenburg County in the newspaper’s 133-school coverage area in North and South Carolina.
Today, Watts is ranked among the nation’s top 10 juniors by some recruiting services.
“It was a great season,” Watts said between classes Thursday morning. “I want to do better. I want my team to do better. We want to win that conference championship.”
With an iPod full of the rapper Drake, Watts speaks in an upbeat tone and seems to know what she wants. She said the best advice she’s ever gotten was to pick a college based on somewhere she would go even if she weren’t playing basketball there. She’s always had a strong affinity for North Carolina, she said, and if ever Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell might offer her, she knew that was the one she’d take. She wants to major in broadcast journalism.
“And North Carolina has one of the best journalism schools in the country,” she said.
So North Carolina offered and Watts accepted and even though Hatchell has taken a medical leave after being diagnosed with cancer, Watts is firm with the Tar Heels. Right now, she said, she just wants to keep getting better.
“She had all these great coaches all over her for a long time,” Cook said. “But when Carolina offered, she jumped at it. I think in the back of her mind, she always enjoyed the idea of playing for Carolina. She loves coach Hatchell and wants to play for a Hall of Fame coach like her, but with all Carolina has to offer, with the tradition and academics, I don’t think she’ll change her mind.”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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