A'ja Wilson's mom keeps score

Rose Fuller Photography

A self-described "family girl," A'ja Wilson got some big assists from her mom throughout the recruiting process.

Ballet would have been nice. And piano certainly has a nice ring to it. Had it been up to Eva Wilson, her daughter would have been twinkling her toes or tickling the ivories.

But A'ja Wilson sprouted to 6-foot-5, and her agile feet and soft hands helped her become the No. 1 high school girls' basketball prospect in the nation.

So Eva, who has no athletic background to speak of, did what she could to help her daughter navigate the stressful recruiting process.

"Spreadsheets," said Eva Wilson, who will be on hand at Heathwood Hall (Columbia, S.C.) on Wednesday afternoon when A'ja makes her highly anticipated college announcement on the "ESPNU Signing Day Special" (ESPNU/WatchESPN, 3 p.m. ET). 

"I'm a methodical person," Eva Wilson said. "So I put down different categories on each college such as location, whether they offered the major A'ja wanted, what their roster looked like, and how A'ja would fit in on the depth chart."

Eva filled in those spreadsheets for every school that came to Columbia for a home visit. She also did it for the schools A'ja visited.

"Every time, for example, that a coach said something that raised eyebrows, I wrote it down," said Eva, the special assistant to the Richland County board of school commissioners. "A'ja didn't even know I was keeping track of that, but later, when we wanted to discuss what we had discovered, she referred to the spreadsheets a lot."

Thanks in part to her mom's help, in December A'ja narrowed her finalists down to Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

"It helped me a lot," A'ja said. "There are things that I could tend to forget or we all could tend to forget. [The spreadsheets] helped me become organized."

No easy task considering that pretty much every school in the nation has tried to convince A'ja to take up residence on their campus.

But Eva said that despite all the attention, A'ja's recruitment never got too hectic. She and her husband, Roscoe, who played nine years of professional basketball in Europe, made sure of it.

"We didn't let it get crazy," Eva said. "We took control from the onset. When we found out how much interest A'ja was getting, we pulled in the reins. We established guidelines, and we expected coaches to follow them."

Among the "A'ja Rules" were three biggies, according to Eva.

1. "Please don't call her after 9 p.m."

2. "Please don't contact her during school hours."

3. "Please know that every call (placed to A'ja within the agreed-upon times) would be on speaker phone so that the entire family could listen in and know what was being discussed."

Some 17-year-olds, Eva said, would resent the controls the Wilson family put in place.

But not A'ja.

"I'm a family girl," A'ja said. "Everything I do, I go through my family. My family has let me know this is my decision. But we are all in this together because there are some things a 17-year-old girl just doesn't know."

In fact, A'ja was the one who put in the rule about the speaker phone.

"She's very levelheaded," Eva said of her daughter. "She's focused and takes everything in stride. A'ja doesn't get frazzled.

"The attention she has garnered would be overwhelming for the average 17-year-old, including me. If I were in her shoes, I probably would have gotten a big head.

"But I'm so pleased with the way A'ja has handled herself. It's human nature to act out at times, but A'ja doesn't do that, and it throws people off sometimes."

Eva recommends that other mothers who find themselves in a similar situation someday should get advice from people in -- and out -- of basketball.

In the case of the Wilson family, they relied on the basketball knowledge of Roscoe and A'ja's AAU coach, Jerome Dickerson.

"They know the tactics that college coaches use," Eva said of AAU coaches. "After all, the college coaches have been doing this for years. For most families, you go through it once if you're lucky."

Eva said some coaches didn't adhere to the "A'ja Rules," and they were eliminated from consideration.

"Take your time," Eva said when asked for more advice for moms. "Don't be rushed into a decision. Your child is relying on you, so do your research.

"We wanted to put A'ja in the position to make a good decision -- not an emotional decision."

Part of that decision-making process is what Eva called "the human side."

That means bringing in people who are not basketball experts but who have A'ja's best interests at heart, such as Eva's mother, 92-year-old Hattie Rakes.

"My mom is A'ja's No. 1 fan," Eva said. "She knows people.

"I think you should surround yourself with experts in the field, and then be sure to consider the people side of things, too."

On that note, Eva said she's thrilled A'ja did not commit during November's early signing period and instead waited until the April "regular" period. Waiting has given A'ja more information and more time to make a wise choice, Eva said. The only question now is, who will it be? Will it be Tennessee, which needs no explanation of its resume in any women's basketball circle?

Will it be Connecticut, which just won its second national championship in a row and its record-setting ninth overall?

Will it be North Carolina, which has the most exciting freshman in the nation in Diamond DeShields and just made a run to the Elite Eight?

Or will it be surging South Carolina, which, under coach Dawn Staley, was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time?

If you can believe it, A'ja said Monday she has still not decided. "It is clearing up for me," she said. "It is not going to be blurry forever or else I'd never go to college."

And, as time ticks down to Wednesday's announcement, Eva has had one last piece of advice for her daughter.

After the spreadsheet, the rules, the people in your basketball inner circle and the family members who can give you their insight into the human condition, there's one final thing to consider.

"Sometimes you have to feel things in your gut," Eva said. "Coaches do a great job of making everything seem rosy, but after a while, you can see through it because no one can keep that up forever.

"So, in the end, you have to go with your instincts. But I know she will make a great decision.

"Look, this has all been very exciting. When I think back to when A'ja was born, I could never have imagined this, but I'm so proud of her. I'm happy she has had the chance to experience all this. It has been a blessing for our family."

Related Content