When the No. 1 womens basketball recruit in the country goes home, she curls up on the couch and watches NCIS with her parents. She sends texts and tweets full of emojis. On weekends, she sleeps in and watches movies with her friends. She loves her pearls.
Aja Wilson clings to those moments of normalcy more and more as her college decision nears. On April 16, she will choose among South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut and North Carolina.
Attention comes with the territory of being the No. 1 recruit in the country, but when its a No. 1 recruit who hasnt picked a school yet, the process can become overwhelming.
While the impending decision brings anxiety, it also will bring relief and the end of a recruitment thats made for an anything-but-normal senior year.
Kids come up to me and say, I want to be like you, Aja. I want to be like you when I grow up, Wilson said. I havent even grown up yet. Im trying to figure out who I want to be when I grow up. Its just crazy sometimes.
The No. 1 recruit as ranked by ESPNW didnt even like basketball at first. But as she jogs from one end of the court to the other after practice at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, a private school in her hometown of Columbia, S.C., her former AAU coach, Jerome Dickerson, casually notes that shell change womens basketball.
Dickerson is referring to her versatility. She has the physique of a center, 6-foot-5, with the ability to dunk. She can shoot with accurate consistency from 3-point range. She can handle the ball like a guard and drive the lane like a forward.
Wilsons father, Roscoe Wilson, played basketball at Benedict College and went on to play professionally in Europe for 10 years. He pushed Aja to play when she was 10, signing her up for an AAU team.
Wilson hated it, and she enjoyed keeping a spot warm on the bench.
My dad kind of got in my face and was like, Im not going to be paying all this money for you to play AAU and ride the bench, Aja said. Thats when I started to go outside and work on my shot.
Roscoe Wilson, a consultant and lobbyist for community programs for ex-offenders and primary health care monitoring concepts, had a different training regimen in mind. While some kids went to the pool with their friends during the hot Columbia summers, Wilson practiced her shot with a medicine ball while wearing a weighted vest. The weights in the vest shift with her movements to simulate a defender always guarding her.
Its what a daddy does, Roscoe Wilson said. You do it out of love because you want your daughter to excel in anything. But then it got to be a goal, and that was the transition.
Her shots started sinking with more consistency, and she started becoming more interested in the sport, watching mens professional games and admiring Clippers forward Blake Griffin. She was on the Heathwood Hall varsity team in eighth grade. She got her first college offer that year from UNC Greensboro. Then she grew from 5-9 in her freshman year to 6-5 her senior year.
Wilson was a member of the 2013 under-19 USA World Championship basketball team that had a 9-0 record and won the gold medal in Lithuania.
She averaged 35 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in her senior season. Wilson is second in Heathwood Hall history in points over her career and first in rebounds and blocks. In her senior season, she led the team to a state championship.
Though Wilson enjoyed the success, the training often put a strain on her relationship with her dad. She would turn to her mother, Eva Wilson, for balance the person who would help Aja feel normal by telling her to do homework and chores.
Were just trying to make sure she is balanced, Eva Wilson said. Shes a regular teenager. She procrastinates. Sometimes she can be lazy. Thats what normal 17-year-olds are like, and shes no different.
Though the workouts got harder, with each college offer that came to her door, Wilson silently appreciated her dads training.
There will be workouts I do with my dad that I wont talk to him, she said. Im that mad that he put me through that workout. He comes up and says, I do it because I love you. And Im like, get out of my room.
When she was 12, Wilson told her dad that by the time she graduated high school, she wanted to win a state championship, a gold medal and be the best recruit in the country.
I said, If youre going to do that, then were going to work, Roscoe Wilson said. I told her she was going to have to sacrifice and she wasnt going to be like other kids.
She accomplished all three goals.
Narrowing it down
When the No. 1 recruit in the country plays in a game, college coaches are bound to be in attendance. In a Heathwood Hall game last year, 27 colleges were represented.
When theyre in the stands, she wants to put on a good show for them, said Heathwood Hall coach John OCain. She takes her game up another notch.
When Wilson decided on her four favorite schools, she called every coach that didnt make the list to tell them the news. She cried while making the calls. Narrowing it down to South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Connecticut was the hardest thing Wilson said she has ever done.
Picking just one will be even harder, which is why shes waited until the first day of the spring signing period. Basketball recruits typically sign sooner, making Wilsons recruitment all the more dramatic.
A tweet about which flavor of Sonic Slush she should pick was misinterpreted as a metaphor for her college decision, prompting responses from her 3,800 Twitter followers that wanted to know her choice.
The obvious pressure from her friends is to stay in Columbia and pick South Carolina. Shes attended Heathwood Hall since kindergarten, and fellow top recruits and friends have signed with the Gamecocks. With South Carolina recently drawing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA womens tournament, the push to stay close to home is stronger.
I think it puts a lot more pressure on her because USC is right in her backyard, said Jatarie White, the No. 7 recruit in the country and a Gamecocks signee. Everybody around the area looks up to her.
Wilson spends time with her 92-year-old grandmother when she needs to escape the basketball world. Her grandmother has never seen her play, even when Wilsons played on national television, because Aja said her grandmother wouldnt want to see her get pushed around.
Shes just stayed the same through all of this, said Chelsea Joseph, a friend of Wilsons at Heathwood Hall. Shes never had a big head or anything. Shes really down to earth. She really values family and friends, and thats one of the things I love the most about her because no matter how many offers she gets or how many awards she wins, shes still a family-oriented girl.
She unwinds by watching her favorite show, Pretty Little Liars, away from her parents, who arent as fond of it. Its her thing. When things get overwhelming, she and Josephwill have a venting session at Panera, or theyll watch one of their favorite scary movies together.
In those moments of normalcy, Wilson reflects back on her unexpected, whirlwind basketball career. Its hard not to smile.
My friends kind of tell me, I cant believe Im talking to you. Youre No. 1, Wilson said. Theyre the ones who remind me because I dont like being called that a lot. I dont want to be like, Yeah, Im No. 1. It is kind of crazy to wake up in the morning and realize that youre it.
The No. 1 recruit loves being the No. 1 recruit.