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Watch out for Wheeling's Wilson
By John Leusch | Daily Herald Staff

Wheeling's Ashley Wilson drives to the basket opposite Montini's Michala Johnson in last season's McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/7/2008 12:04 AM

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No one knows better than Shelly Wiegel of what Ashley Wilson can do on the basketball floor.

The Wheeling coach has watched the 6-foot standout dominate games for the past three years.

Wiegel also expects Wilson to excel once she graduates from Wheeling.

"I think the sky is the limit for what she can do after graduating," Wiegel said. "Nothing would surprise me. The Olympics, the WNBA, a lawyer, whatever... "

First, Wilson wants to try and help her Wildcats get downstate a year after she helped lead them to the first Mid-Suburban League girls basketball championship in school history and a 28-4 record.

"I kind of feel a lot of pressure, but no bad pressure," said Wilson, who is verbally committed to Purdue University. "It's been a big goal to win state and I am putting a lot of pressure on myself for that because I have been on this team for three years."

Before those three years, Wilson was forming her game. She started playing just for fun in sixth grade.

"Nothing serious," she said. "Then in seventh grade I realized I really liked it and started playing AAU. Then in eighth grade I started going and watching Wheeling varsity games."

Wilson said she was amazed by the Wildcats.

"I would go home and tell my mom, 'they're so good,'" Wilson said.

Now, Wilson (1,278 career points and 682 rebounds) is a major reason they are so good and will be among the state's elite teams in the preseason rankings.

"When I first saw Ashley play basketball in a middle school feeder game she was an athlete just learning how to play the game," Wiegel said. "You could tell there was potential, and she continued to improve through her middle school years.

"I believe the first coaches to really work with her and help her develop the fundamentals were Mr. (Bob) and Mrs. (Teresa) Kuzmanic, who were coaching the feeder teams and Ashley was playing on a team with many of her current teammates."

Although Wilson was quiet and somewhat shy, Wiegel said she could tell Wilson's strength and speed were at an elite level even if her basketball skills were just beginning to develop.

"She continued to improve under the guidance of the Kuzmanics and in AAU with Full Package," the coach added.

By the time she got to Wheeling, Wilson was ready make an impact.

"She was still incredibly shy, and at one point I asked her mom if she was enjoying summer camp because she hardly said a word," Wiegel said. "Her mom said she was having a great time and enjoying camp, the team, and the games in summer league."

In Wilson's freshman year, the team went 28-4 and lost in overtime to Buffalo Grove in the sectional final.

"She was all-area, and you could tell it was the beginning of a special career," Wiegel said. "And she made a name for herself by working hard, improving every game, and showing that she could compete at an elite level every night she stepped on the floor."

As a sophomore, the Wildcats went 23-7 and Wilson captured the attention of Division I schools across the nation.

On Sept. 1 of her junior year, the letters began rolling in along with phone calls.

"It was exciting and stressful, but Ashley handled it like she does all major challenges, Wiegel said. "She was patient, thoughtful, and talked it over with her parents, especially her mom (Jennifer), who is her No. 1 fan."

"My mom has always been so supportive," said Wilson, whose father Charles tries to make as many games as possible, too, when work permits.

Wilson visited schools, talked to coaches, and ultimately decided Purdue was the place for her.

She is an honors student and plans to study criminal justice and forensics, an interest she developed by watching television shows such as CSI and Law and Order.

"Ashley has a great knowledge of the game, she is coachable and leads by example," Wiegel added. "She is not the most vocal person on the team but she knows how to get the most out of her teammates and is a natural leader.

"Whether on the court, in the classroom or out and about in the community, people want to be around her."

Wilson worked the Wheeling summer camp with the fifth through eighth grades the last three years.

"Each year it is a highlight for the kids to be able to interact with her," Wiegel said. "She is a role model to the kids who attend. She is still somewhat quiet and reserved, but her sense of humor is amazing and when she is around her peers, she opens up and has a great time."

Like all great athletes, Wilson is incredibly competitive in practices, games, and even outside of basketball.

As a junior, she decided to try track for the first time and qualified for state in the shot put. She was also part of a record-setting relay team.

Wilson once teased Wiegel that she was going to go out for bowling her sophomore year instead of basketball.

"We had a competition one night after a summer league game in Libertyville," Wiegel said. "It was an individual and team competition. Her team won the competition, but I beat her individually, so she decided to stay with basketball.

"We still razz each other a little about the competition since both of us technically won and lost. I bowled a 208, she was under 150. But her team beat my team and we all know team success is what really matters."

And Wilson, no doubt, sure can help carry a team on the basketball floor.

"She is the most talented athlete I have had the privilege of working with and is a solid all-around individual," Wiegel said. "Ashley has strong morals and ethics, and makes her parents, our school, and our community proud."