Something told Weddington girls basketball coach Ryun Cook to check the statistics before he pulled sophomore guard Stephanie Watts from the game on Friday, Nov. 30.
Weddington sophomore guard Stephanie Watts set a new county record with 50 points on Friday, Nov. 30.
Watts had dropped 25 points in the first half and helped the Warriors build a comfortable lead over Cuthbertson through three quarters, making it the perfect time to sit Watts for the rest of the game. But Cook didn’t want to miss any milestones Watts might be able to hit.
“I was wondering if maybe she had reached her career-high of 38 (points),” Cook said. “That’s when my assistant coach informed me she had already reached 44. That definitely caught me off guard.”
Watts sank two more 3-pointers to finish the game with 50 points, setting a new Union County standard for both boys and girls players. Watts hit 19 of her 29 field goals, including eight of her 15 3-point attempts, while adding seven rebounds, seven steals and three assists in the 83-57 win. The point total tied Watts for 10th all-time in North Carolina public-school girls basketball history.
Watts said her reaction to the news was similar to Cook’s.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Watts said. “I definitely didn’t think I had that many points. I knew a lot of my shots were falling, but I didn’t think I could do that.”
Perhaps she should have. Despite her youth, Watts has quickly asserted herself as one of the top young talents in the state. As a freshman, Watts earned Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference player-of-the-year honors after recording team-high averages in points (18.3), assists (5.2), steals (3.8), rebounds (7.6) and blocks (2.1) while shooting 51 percent from the floor.
Perhaps more impressive is the fact that she entered high school with a good amount of fanfare, meaning her success hardly was a product of opponents taking her lightly.
“People started talking about her when she was in seventh grade,” said Cook. “We knew we’d be excited to have her in the high school. Of course, coming in as a freshman, I didn’t know what level she would be at right off the bat.”
It didn’t take long to learn.
“She came in immediately and led us in pretty much every category right from the start,” Cook said. “She kind of burst on the scene.”
Watts said she began playing basketball competitively in second grade while living in New York. The following season, she began playing at the AAU level, which continued after she moved to Weddington in the fifth grade.
That background, she said, helped prepare her for the varsity level as a freshman. But just to make sure, she asked her brother, Brandon, what to expect. Brandon, a year older, had made his way into the Weddington boys team’s rotation as a freshman and gave his sister some reassuring news about what was in store.
“He always told me it’s not going to be the worst (transition) in the world because school ball is tough, but AAU is really tough, too,” Watts said. “There are more players that put a lot of time into basketball (in AAU). I kind of already knew what to expect.
“I didn’t think I’d do awful or struggle too badly. I thought I’d have a decent season, but I did better than I expected to do.”
Cook touted Watts’ humility as a major reason she was able to assimilate with a team stocked with returning starters, including five seniors.
“I think she’s such an excellent passer that that definitely helped, as well,” Cook said.
Amazingly, Cook said Watts might be even better this season, and the stats support that. While leading her team to a 3-2 start entering its Friday, Dec. 7 game against Concord Robinson, Watts is again leading the team in several statistical categories, including points (23.2), steals (6.8), rebounds (7.2), blocks (2.4) and assists (3.6) while hitting 47 percent of her field goals. In a 74-32 win over Concord Cox Mill on Tuesday, Dec. 4, Watts reached rarified air when she recorded a quadruple-double – reaching double figures in four categories. She tallied 20 points, 12 steals, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
To no one’s surprise, the college recruiters have taken notice. Watts said she already has scholarship offers from programs such as Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, East Carolina and the Charlotte 49ers. She’s also received interest from N.C. State, North Carolina, Louisville, Auburn and Duke, among others.
“I think with a year of varsity high school basketball under her belt, I think she came in that much more confident (this season),” Cook said.
Cook also said Watts has dedicated herself to getting stronger this season, and Watts agreed that her work in the weight room has made a sizeable impact on her game.
“I’m actually taking a weight-lifting class right now, and it’s really helpful,” Watts said. “I can see an improvement already after only a few months of doing it. I get more (traditional three-point play opportunities) when I drive, and the ball doesn’t get tipped out of my hands as much. The ball just feels better, and I can shoot from farther out, too.”
Cook said that although he has seen Watts every day this school year, her increase in strength has been noticeable.
“I’m amazed at how much I’ve seen her filling out,” Cook said. “I think her added strength is really going to be a big thing for her this year.”
Watts said the added strength has taken some getting used to. In the season opener, Watts scored 20 points but hit just two of her 15 shots from beyond the 3-point line.
“At the beginning (of the season), I couldn’t shoot to save my life,” Watts said with a laugh. “After weight lifting, the ball felt so light and it felt really uncomfortable to shoot and stuff, but after a while you get used to it. It helps your shot a ton in the long run.”
Watts also said she’s adjusting to her role as the team’s leader, as she was voted a team captain this season.
“It’s good having your teammates look to you,” Watts said. “My teammates are always really supportive of everything. I have really good teammates.”
Watts also said her experience as a freshman has contributed to her early success this season.
“I knew I was going to play hard and do as good as I can to maybe help my team win the conference,” Watts said. “I think I was a little bit more comfortable coming into this season because I knew more of what to expect.”
Now, after a 50-point outburst and a quadruple-double, so does every one else.