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Wertz: Weddington’s Watts talented, calm and composed – even on an off night

Weddington High girls’ basketball star Stephanie Watts was off Wednesday in the N.C. 3A Western Regional semifinals.

Watts missed seven of her first eight shots in what became a 50-45 loss to Canton Pisgah. She missed layups right at the basket. She dribbled off her leg. Watts is ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation among juniors and as high as No. 2 at the wing position. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to her often.

What was impressive, though, was how well she handled it, playing in the biggest high school game of her career. Watts never showed any outward frustration. She didn’t yell at anyone. Her facial expression never changed. And make no mistake, it was still crystal clear that she was the best player on the floor.

She can dribble at full speed and attack a defender, wrapping the ball behind her back to the right hand in one dribble and then wrapping it behind her back to the left in the next. At the end of the third quarter, Watts made her signature move and drove the lane with the ball in her right hand. As a Pisgah defender approached, Watts moved the ball around her waist, from her right hand to her left and back to her right again, using the move to slither past the defense. In the same motion, she made a pretty difficult layup, jumping away from another defender hoping to take a charge.

Sitting at courtside, N.C. High School Athletic Association deputy commissioner Que Tucker – who coached at N.C. State with Kay Yow and is a former high school conference coach of the year – watched the move, leaned back in her steel chair so hard that she forced the front legs to raise up off the ground. Tucker’s mouth opened, but no words came out.

Even on an “off” night, Watts was spectacular. She finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks, two assists and two steals, playing nearly every minute.

After the game, Watts took her time getting ready for a postgame media conference, finally emerging wearing a green Weddington T-shirt, shorts and bare feet. She answered every question politely.

“We came out a little bit too nervous,” she said on a night where her team shot 32 percent. “We were getting good shots, all the shots we wanted to get. It just makes me really hungry for next year.”

Weddington returns all of its starters next season. There’s a good chance, given good health and a few breaks, that Weddington will return to the regionals – with Watts – next season.

“She had a tough night because Pisgah plays good physical defense,” Weddington coach Ryun Cook said. “But she’s a special player, and seeing her play in this atmosphere is an exciting thing. I hope to see it again.”

Cook marvels at how Watts can always maintain her composure, whether she’s being double-teamed or getting a triple-double.

“She’s such a cool customer,” Cook said. “She’s always under control and she can go inside or outside. She’s such a tough person to defend and a great kid to coach.”