I would like to start this story off by introducing Candice Wiggins in the context that the average Stanford sports fan can embrace, understanding that many may not be familiar with the world and personnel in women's basketball recruiting today. To all the men's hoops fans, she is the David Padgett talent who is not only the most elite of elite catches in this year, but a preeminent prize that comes around maybe once every five to 10 years with Stanford academics. The distinction of course is that Wiggins has been admitted to Stanford, while Padgett could not provide anything admissible in the end of his Cardinal recruitment. To football fans, she is the Trent Edwards for this program - a consensus uberelite recruit who could single-handedly alter Stanford's fortunes and additionally fill a very crucial positional need.
To Stanford women's basketball fans, she is a Nicole Powell caliber talent. Wiggins is not just a consensus top 50 player or even top 25. She is a consensus top 10 by the three major prep girls recruiting services:
All Game Sports #9
Blue Star #9
All Star Girls Report #7
She was named a Student Sports All-American for her freshman, sophomore and junior years, including a first team placement that sophomore (2002) year. USA Today has tabbed her an All-American each of the last two years. She was named to the California Division V All-State team in 2001 and 2002 by Cal-Hi Sports, and then named the female Athlete of the Year for all juniors in all sports in the state for Division V in 2003.
All these accolades and awards, despite enduring a junior season of basketball that she describes as "not [her] best year."
"We took a huge leap in lots of senses this past year," the 5'11" 140-pound superstar explains. "We had won the state championship the last two years in Division V so they bumped us up to Division IV now. We played a very new schedule with more competition and bigger schools. There were some disappointing losses, but we stayed #1 in the San Diego area."
Though pushed into a higher division, La Jolla Country Day climbed once again to the state championship game and met Stockton St. Mary's. Wiggins was facing one of the top 10 seniors in the country and a Student Sports second team All-American guard in Dominique Banks, who was also named Ms. Basketball for California in 2003.
Wiggins fouled out with more than three minutes to go in the third quarter of the game, amidst heavy controversy. The media lashed out that she was called for some phantom or unnecessary whistles, though all she cared about was the fact that she had to sit and watch her team - helpless. The Lady Torres fell 56-51.
"That was the hardest thing I've faced in my whole basketball career," Wiggins laments. "It still pains me now. But it has set the tone for this year."
The San Diego junior averaged a strong 30 points per game, with 12 rebounds and eight assists, which are unspeakable stats in the girls game. But Wiggins also had averaged 30 points in his sophomore season and critiques her lack of improvement.
"I didn't go anywhere - I just stayed the same," she bemoans. "It was fun to have a totally different schedule, but I could have done a lot more."
The incredibly cerebral student-athlete finds fault in both her mental and physical fitness in her junior season. "I don't want to put down what I did my junior year, or make excuses, but I did have an injury that probably affected me. I had a lateral meniscus tear that required surgery in February, and I came back after only four weeks. I can say now that I came back too fast. I had never had an injury before, and in my head I felt like I couldn't do some of the things I could do before. I didn't think I was as explosive as before, and all the other things on the court."
With the bitter pain of that state final loss still gnawing away at her soul, Wiggins has come back twice as strong and determined since.
"The thing that really separates her from all the others is how much she absolutely hates to lose," comments LJCD head coach Terri Bamford. "She does anything she has to do get better and win everything possible."
Wiggins continues the thought: "I've had a complete and total change since that loss. I've told myself that you choose to succeed or you choose to fail. In that state game, I chose to fail. This whole summer was a huge turnaround for me, and it was definitely the best summer I've ever had. I can confidently say that."
Her busy summer included the USA Basketball's elite invitation to their 48-member Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, where she averaged 24.8 points per game for the West team. "That was great," she remarks of the experience. "It was a once in a lifetime deal to have 'USA' on your jersey, to even represent a part of the country. It was also neat to be on the same team with someone who could be a future teammate."
That other girl whom she mentions is Cissy Pierce, a 5'10" 130-pound guard from Littleton, Colorado who has already given her commitment to Stanford in this 2004 recruiting class. "Cissy and I are kind of a lot alike," Wiggins describes. "We both are very athletic, though she has a really nice jump shot - I have to give her that. Playing with her was really cool. It's fun to have someone athletic like that on your team. But in Colorado we rarely played together. They had us at the same position. There were sometimes at the end of games when they had to put us both on the floor, though."
Wiggins also remarks that off the court she didn't spend quite as much time with Pierce as she would have liked. "Cissy was studying a lot for the ACTs," the San Diego star recalls. Hey, what else do you expect from an aspiring Stanford applicant?
"You know who I really loved playing with," Wiggins then adds. "Jessie Elway. We were both at the [adidas] Top Ten All-American camp in Atlanta. I absolutely love her style of play."
Other summer stops for the 5'11" combo guard from Poway (CA) included tournaments in Oregon City, Orange County and the adidas Super Showcase. While many girls elect to play on select invitation AAU clubs, she stuck together with her LJCD teammates and played as a high school team in the spring and summer. The chemistry is incredibly tight on that team, and the veteran talent could make them the most dominant team in the state of California this year, regardless of division. They have played in three straight state championship games with underclass stars who are now upperclassmen.
"We lost one senior from last year," the prep All-American details. "She was important to us, but basically we have our entire team back. We start two seniors and two juniors, which is big for us. We are so focused and so ready. We are so pumped, and it all stems from that last game."
Student Sports just released their preseason rankings of the top 50 high school girls teams in the nation, and the Torres debut for the 2003-04 season at #17 in the country. Only Stockton St. Mary's (#15) and Long Beach Poly (#13) rank slightly higher in the Golden State.
Not only does Wiggins drive the engine for her LJCD team at the guard position, she also sets the emotional and leadership tempo for her teammates. "On the court she is both an emotional leader and a physical leader," Coach Bamford tells. "Candice works harder than anyone I know. For someone who has so much talent and doesn't really need to work that hard, that says something about her."
That drive is the reason you can believe that she can improve upon her already unbeatable 30-point average. Her size is one of the immediately exciting measurables of her game that gets women's college coaches all worked up. For those not familiar with the women's game, 5'11" is extraordinary size for a point guard (Wiggins can play either the '1' or the '2' in college). As a comparison, Stanford redshirt junior Susan King Borchardt is just 5'7" and junior Kelley Suminski is 5'9".
"With her size, Candice can match up against anybody at either guard position in college," Bamford opines. "She is incredibly athletic, as well. She has great quickness in addition to her court awareness. Candice has three-point range but also a nice midrange game. Add all that to her work ethic and emotional strength and you have somebody really special."
"I've been playing for a long time - 10 years - so my fundamentals are pretty good by now," Wiggins adds. "There were certainly things I still worked on this summer, though. I think my outside shot has gotten better, and that's now a threat. I'm known as a slasher - that's my trademark, I guess - but I think I can do some damage from outside this year, too. I have really been working on my midrange shot because I think defenders sag off me when I drive to the basket. My reputation is to take it to the hole, and it would really give defenses a problem if I can pull up and hit the midrange shot."
For all these reasons, Candice Wiggins is the apple of just about everyone's eye in college basketball. There is a reason that Stanford and Duke are waging a war for her services on the hardwood. But more than the chance that this young lady could be the next Nicole Powell, she might be the next Kristen Folkl.
That's right, Wiggins is a two-sport superstar who may be just as good at volleyball as she is at basketball. All schools recruiting her are saying that she will be able to play both sports in college, and her athleticism says she can pull it off.
LCJD is not nearly as strong in volleyball as they are in basketball. Only one player other than Wiggins at the school even plays club volleyball, which is even more essential to the development of prep talents as AAU basketball to that sport. Nevertheless, the Torres made it to the CIF section finals.
She has a 24" standing vertical jump and has played middle blocker for both her high school and club teams, though she has now moved to outside hitter, where she believes she will play in college. The plan is to redshirt the first year in volleyball and play exclusively basketball as a freshman. Then her sophomore year she would pick volleyball up again and play both sports. While she has the athletic talents to be a star in both sports, the question for dual-sport athletes is usually one of time management and discipline.
"I think Candice has the ability to handle both sports in college," Bamford proclaims. "It has never been even the slightest issue here [at LJCD]. She never stresses and she always manages her time right. When she isn't playing one of the two sports, you can find her in the library - studying hard and steering away from distractions."
In part II of the Candice Wiggins Story, we will explore the recruiting details that have led up to her college decision she is announcing today...
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