A'ja Wilson chats with IT

Top recruit A'ja Wilson will make an official visit to Knoxville on Thursday for the SEC opener and retirement of Candace Parker's jersey. The Class of 2014 forward took the time New Year's Eve to chat with InsideTennessee.

A'Ja Wilson is just 17 years old – she won't turn 18 until next summer – and has the eyes of women's basketball on her as the top recruit in the Class of 2014. She also has the attentive eye of four coaching staffs as Wilson has narrowed her finalists to her home state school of South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Wilson will arrive in Knoxville on Thursday morning and depart on Saturday to stay within the 48-hour timeframe of official visits. She will be in attendance when Tennessee takes on LSU in the SEC opener on Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The timing was right for Wilson because school is out, though she still has practice and upcoming games, and the jersey of Lady Vol legend Candace Parker will be retired in a 6:45 p.m. ceremony before tipoff. Wilson planned an official visit to Tennessee anyway, and that game was perfect timing.

"Ever since Tennessee was here for their home visit I loved it and I wanted to see more about it," Wilson said. "The coaches said, ‘This could be a good date for you to come.' My role model is going to be there and getting her jersey retired so why not go for that date."

Wilson knows that she could get star-struck, "but I try to keep my cool around stars, especially if it's my role model," she said. "I don't know how I am going to act in Knoxville. It should be interesting.

"When I see Candace Parker, I am going to have to stay seated just to make sure everything is OK and I will be able to watch it, not in the hospital somewhere."

Wilson was right on time for a scheduled phone interview and peppers her responses with yes and no ma'am. The polite and poised teenager offered expansive answers, so she has a media presence to match her sublime game.

It is hard not to draw comparisons to Parker in terms of size and skill, though the 6-4 Wilson is left-handed. It also would be unfair to burden a 17-year-old with that label just yet, but, like Parker, Wilson can be a dominant player in college.

As Pat Summitt famously said, "Whoever gets Candace Parker will be cutting down nets." The same could be said of Wilson.

Wilson is versatile enough to play inside or on the perimeter, and she can line up in college at the small and power forward positions.

"If I have a girl that is shorter than me, I will most definitely take her down in the post, but if the girl is bigger and I may be quicker than her, I will take her out on the perimeter," Wilson said.

"I am not going to compare myself to Candace Parker, but that is who I frame my game after. I frame my game after her the most with a little bit of Kevin Durant in there, too."

Before the college comparisons begin in earnest – and they will – Wilson has to choose a college. She did manage to narrow her schools to four after being on everybody's wanted list.

"It was really tough narrowing down these schools," Wilson said. "These four schools really stuck out from all the other schools. It was the coaching staff, the girls on the team, really just the program itself and also the interest that I had in the school and the campus. That helped me narrow it down to those four."

She has already made official visits to Connecticut and North Carolina with Tennessee this week and South Carolina scheduled for the first weekend of February.

Wilson will complete her senior season at Heathwood Hall High School in Hopkins, S.C., and then make her college decision. She is familiar with all four programs, so the personal connection will be the overriding final factor.

"It will be the people, how I feel with the people and the feeling that I get there," Wilson said. "All four of these schools are great programs. They are top-notch programs, so really it's just going to be the people and the coaching staff and how I would fit in and how I would see myself fitting in at their school.

"If I were to get hurt or basketball were to be taken out of my life while I am at college, can I see myself at that school for my four years there? Will the coach still love me as if I were still playing for him or her? That is really going to be the key points of me sitting down with my (high school and AAU) coaches and parents and going over where I am going to be spending my next four years."

That announcement could come in March – Wilson plans to ink her LOI during the regular signing period beginning in April – or she may need until the signing period starts to decide.

"Whenever I think I have made a great decision and my parents are all in and my high school and AAU coaches are all in, then I will be good (to announce), but recruiting right now is kind of last on my list because I am trying to get through my high school season and high school itself," Wilson said.

While Wilson is focused on her senior year, college coaches are picturing her as a freshman on their campuses. Tennessee has been very visible at her games – head coach Holly Warlick was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where Wilson rewrote the record book and was MVP of the CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational, before Christmas, and assistant coach Kyra Elzy was in South Carolina last week to see Wilson.

When not in school or on the basketball court, Wilson is a typical teenager – she catches up on sleep, eats and goes to the mall.

"I hang out with friends and family or just sleeping," Wilson said with a laugh. "My friends are also athletes so we're all just very busy, but when we find time when we're actually free, we go all out in whatever we're doing that day."

Wilson's parents, Eva Rakes Wilson and Roscoe C. Wilson Jr., are offering advice to their daughter – her father played at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and professionally for a decade in Europe – but allowing her to decide. Her parents will also be in attendance for the visit to Tennessee.

"They're giving me advice here and there," Wilson said. "Of course, they're going to be parents, but they're saying that it's my decision, which it is. They are leaving it up to me. They put in their input here and there, but right now they are leaving it up to me."

Wilson has been able to keep the recruiting process in perspective, and it's not weighing on her.

"It was great ever since I narrowed my list down," she said. "I did have pressure because I was like, ‘I hope I am picking the right schools. I hope I am making the right decision.' But once I got the list out, everything kind of calmed down.

"I stayed the same. I am not getting hyped up or pressured over this, because I know it's my decision, and the coaches know, and they're talking me through it at every school. It's been a fun process. I really enjoy talking to the coaches and them texting me after my games and seeing them at my games.

"It's been a lot of fun."


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