Meet Ashlyn Watkins, the 14-year-old prospect who dares to dunk
Sitting in the stands, Harriet Watkins watched her daughter steal the basketball. And she started to squirm.
"When she took off," Harriet said of her 14-year-old daughter, Ashlyn Watkins, "I was saying, 'Don't do it. Don't do it.'"
Ashlyn had a completely different thought.
Swiping a pass, Watkins saw open court and zeroed in on the opposing rim at the Apache Paschall Memorial Showcase in Louisville, Kentucky.
The previous night, Watkins had her dunk attempt rim out.
"My left leg swerved a little bit, and I knew I didn't jump high enough," Watkins said of her missed slam. "The ball flew out of my hands. I was disappointed, but I just kept going. I figured I would just try again next time."
The next time was the next night, and that previous experience did not deter the 6-foot-3 rising freshman at Cardinal Newman in Columbia, South Carolina.
Watkins soared and dunked. The stunned crowd roared. Her delighted mother exhaled.
"I didn't think she was ready," Harriet Watkins said. "But I guess she was ready."
Roger Wiley, Ashlyn's AAU coach, called timeout so his team could settle down.
There were more than 400 teams competing in that showcase, Wiley said, and a large contingent of college coaches was lined up along the sideline and baseline.
Watkins' dunk was watched by many and heard by even more. Many people came rushing to the court after they heard the commotion.
"I heard a lot of kids say, 'Is that the girl who dunked?'" Wiley said. "They followed her from there on out to see if she could do it again."
Watkins, who had thrown it down previously in practices and camps but not in a game-like setting, has already proven that the dunk wasn't a one-time deal. She did it again this week at the Jr. NBA World Championship.
As an eighth grader on varsity last season, Watkins averaged 14.6 points and 11.8 rebounds while leading Cardinal Newman to a state championship. She is regarded, at this early stage, as the nation's No. 1 prospect in the class of 2022.
"She has so many [college scholarship] offers," Wiley said, "that I don't think I can name them all: South Carolina, North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia, Kentucky ..."
Watkins is the youngest, tallest and most athletic of her siblings. She is already 6 inches taller than her mother, 8 inches taller than her sister Autumn and 10 inches taller than her sister Alexi. Her father, Van, is 6-foot-3 and played high school basketball. Her brother, Tori, is 6-foot-1.
Along with her height, Ashlyn Watkins has huge hands -- all the better to palm the ball as she soars for dunks.
"I'm 6-foot-3, and her hands are bigger than mine," Wiley said. "Her arms are longer than mine, too. She has shot-blocking arms. She gets up quick and closes the gap on shooters very fast."
But Watkins is more than just slams and swats.
"Offensively, she plays like a guard," Wiley said. "She can go coast-to-coast. She can go left or right. She can knock down a 3. She has a hook shot. She's hard to stop."
That has always been the case for Watkins, who learned to ride a bike at age 3. A few years later, she cried when she was given a motorized bike that was slower than that of her siblings.
She aspires to be a doctor, and she has been known to lock herself in her room, studying as long as necessary until she is confident that she can ace her test.
Watkins attacks basketball with that same drive. She started her athletic career playing soccer, but she hated running under the hot sun.
By third grade, she was 5-foot-9, taller than everyone in her school -- including every teacher and administrator -- and that led Watkins to ask her mother if she could sign up for basketball.
"Before I started, everyone would ask me if I play basketball," Watkins said. "That got me to thinking that I wanted to use my height."
Watkins, who will turn 15 on Oct. 5, also has a "fun personality," according to her high school coach, Molly Rainwater.
"At one of her first practices with us, she showed up with 'Space Jam' socks on," Rainwater said. "She also had a headband full of different emojis that she would wear on occasion.
"She's a great player and a good kid. She has a ton of potential, and I'm looking forward to coaching her the next few years."