The Truth

<b>ThunderRidge (Colo.)</b> All-American guard <b>Abby Waner</b>, arguably the nation's best prep scorer, is poised to lead her team to a third straight state title.

This article appears in the December 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

You know those parents. The kind who live vicariously through their kids' athletic lives. The kind who push their kids to the point of quitting sports altogether.

ThunderRidge senior guard Abby Waner's dad, Tim Waner, isn't one of them. Involved, yes. Abrasive, no.

The former New York Yankees minor leaguer coached Abby and her older sister, Emily, in basketball, softball and soccer up until middle school. And although he still rebounds for Abby quite frequently, he has always known his limits.

But then again, he also recognizes when father knows best.

Like the time Abby was in first grade and playing on Emily's third-grade basketball team. When Tim tried to sub Abby into the game the first time, she teared up and refused to play.

"My dad had to physically put me on the court," Abby says. "I'm glad he did."

Ever since then, it's been tough getting Abby off the court.

Although she loves everything Harry Potter, is an honor student and is a certified mallrat, Abby's true passion is basketball. She started playing for the nationally renown girls' basketball club Colorado Hoopsters in fifth grade, gave up other sports to focus on basketball by high school, and competed internationally with the USA Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team this past summer.

Even when Abby isn't balling for an organized team, there's a good chance she's still playing hoops. In fact, Abby and Emily spent their childhood trying to one-up each other in one-on-one.

Whereas Abby is a slashing off-guard with a sweet shooting stroke, Emily is a heady point guard with excellent court vision and tight ball-handling skills. The differences in their games have led to some epic matchups.

"It depends on who you ask (who wins)," Abby says. "I guess it goes back and forth. There have been some pretty heated games. She made me call my mom for a ride once even though she had her license. She took her keys and said I could walk home or find my own ride."

Hundreds of one-on-one games later and more than a decade since her dad gave Abby that nudge onto the court, she has become the best girls' basketball player in ThunderRidge history. No questions asked.

A SchoolSports All-American, the 5-foot-11 guard is arguably the nation's best prep scorer. She was named state Player of the Year by The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News last year after averaging 31.8 points, 7.5 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 steals per game to lead ThunderRidge to its second straight Class 5A state title.

With one full scholastic season still ahead of her, Abby's name is already inscribed at the top of the school's record book in most major career, single-season and single-game categories. She has averaged a program-best 25.1 points per game in three years on varsity and has already scored the most career points in team history (1,760). She also has the most steals in team history with 375 and is second in career rebounds (421) and assists (395). Barring injury, she could own both of those records by the end of this season.

So with Abby's status in school history locked down, the only question up for debate is whether she's the best girls' player in state history.

It's a discussion that has divided the area's hoop enthusiasts, according to ThunderRidge second-year head coach Bill Bradley. Especially since the southern suburbs of Denver have turned into a factory of sorts for the elite teams of women's college basketball.

But Bradley says the debate about the state's all-time best boils down to two players — Abby and former Highlands Ranch star Ann Strother, now a junior at UConn.

"I think it's an argument that's split right down the middle," Bradley says. "From what I understand about Ann, she was a consummate team player — one who could take over at the end of ballgames. But from the tip to the very end, Abby is competing at a high, high level."

Truth is, Abby is humbled by the attention and knows she still has a long way to go before matching Strother's feats. Abby says success is measured by team accomplishments, not prep scoring records or All-American honors. And although Abby has earned her fair share of accolades, Strother has already won two national championships at UConn.

But Abby, who is gunning for her third straight Class 5A state title with the Grizzlies this season, isn't ashamed to take a back seat for now.

"Ann has always been one of my role models," Abby says. "I think Ann is an absolutely amazing player, and it's an honor to be placed on the same list as her. I had to guard her when I was a freshman — it was weird guarding my hero."

The next time Abby hopes to match up with Strother is at the 2006 Final Four. Abby spurned UConn and Colorado to commit to Duke, where she'll join Emily, herself a former All-State player at ThunderRidge who transferred from CU to Duke after averaging 7.1 points per game as a freshman last year.

"When I decided Colorado wasn't the best fit for me, I told Emily that and we talked and decided that we wanted to play together," Abby says.

Emily will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules and have three years of eligibility remaining once Abby joins the Blue Devils next year. Emily's skills at the point mean Abby will be free to roam the perimeter and exploit defenses with her deadly outside shot.

Not that Abby will necessarily be looking to score.

"Scoring is real superficial," Abby says. "If you don't score a lot of points, that doesn't mean you don't have a good game."

A self-described scrappy player who prides herself on her will to win and her competitiveness, Abby says passing is her strongest suit. Her coach, however, disagrees.

"The thing that I see that separates Abby from a lot of the top players is that I haven't seen one that competes on the defensive end as well as Abby," Bradley says. "I don't find a weakness in Abby."

And not just in basketball.

The 18-year-old has embraced her status as a role model, taking time to volunteer with elementary students. She's also taking three AP courses and could enter Duke with at least nine credit hours under her belt.

"She's just a great, great human being," Bradley says. "You add that to the fact that she has great basketball abilities, it's almost unreal. You've seen great students, you've seen great basketball players, you've seen great leaders, but to put it all in one package is fairly unreal."

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