By Mike London
SPENCER – Amid floating gold and blue balls and smiling teammates, friends and coaches, North Rowan senior Hannah Wilkerson quietly signed Monday night at school.
“So proud of her,” said Anthia Smith, head coach of North Basketball. “Getting to this day is why she has competed so hard every day for four years. “
Wilkerson signed with Columbia International University, a small school in South Carolina with a strong reputation for academics and athletics. The Rams compete well in the ranks of the NAIA and they also compete for the National Christian College Athletic Association Championships.
South Rowan graduate Kira Rymer played for the Columbia International Team which recently won the NCCAA National Volleyball Title. Wilkerson is fortunate enough to do similar things for the CIU basketball program.
Wilkerson’s game has always been more about consistent 18-point effort than the occasional 30-point blast that makes the headlines, but she is by far the top scorer of all Rowan County players – boys and girls. . In a COVID world of limited games where very good four-year-old college players are still pushing towards 1,000, Wilkerson is only four buckets away from 1,300.
“We only got to play 12 games all last season,” said Wilkerson. “But if we can play a full season this year, I could reach 1,500 points. This is a number that I have looked at. It’s a goal that I set for myself.
It’s clear what 1,500 would mean to her. A certain number of girls go up to 1000, at least normally, but 1500 puts you at the elite level. In the story of North Rowan, a school that opened in 1958, only three girls reached 1,500 points, and all three played Division I basketball. Sophilia Hipps (2,264 points) and Stephanie Cross (2,109) were among the top scorers not only in North history but also in Rowan County history. Megan Honeycutt is third on North’s career list at 1,555.
Wilkerson is continuing the pursuit of 1,500 as part of the county’s smaller roster. North only dresses seven.
The Cavaliers are able to argue in practice because Smith steps in and they can borrow some jayvee boys.
The thin list means additional challenges. That means playing 32 minutes and that means avoiding trouble at all costs. That means playing more zone than the Cavaliers want, but Wilkerson handles it all with a smile.
“Hannah could have gone anywhere and played for any school, but she stayed here,” Smith said. “She always understood what it meant to be a horseman.”
Wilkerson grew up with the game, and as part of a coaching family, she remembers traveling long distances to compete in AAU men’s tournaments before she was in freshman.
She took a hiatus from basketball for several years and explored other sports, but by the time she returned to basketball in sixth grade she was all-in.
“I made the decision to get involved in the sport,” said Wilkerson.
She started running as a freshman in high school, scoring 20 against North Hills in her first college game in the fall of 2018.
“I don’t remember the first bucket I did, but I do remember the first high school game I played was in a jamboree at Carson,” Wilkerson said. “I remember we won. This is always the goal.
She had an average of 16.2 points in the first year. North started this season 4-6, but finished it 16-12. Wilkerson scored 17 in a 67-63 win over Albemarle in the Yadkin Valley conference tournament championship game that proved to be a turning point for the program.
In his sophomore year, Wilkerson had an average of 15.9 points. North went 16-12 again, finishing second in the YVC and second in the conference tournament. Wilkerson scored a career-high 34 in a narrow playoff loss to the Community School of Davidson.
COVID cut things off soon after, dashing his summer plans and dramatically shortening his junior season. Wilkerson scored just 176 points as a junior after passing 450 in his first two seasons. She was averaging 14.7 per game. She reached 1,000 points for her career in a 48-47 loss to Thomasville. North went 8-0 in the YVC game. Wilkerson was named conference player of the year.
“Normally this would have been a big year for recruiting, but a lot of the girls in the class of 2022 have been overlooked because of COVID,” Wilkerson said. “I got a few looks, but no bites, no offers, and I was starting to doubt myself.”
But she was able to play a good schedule in the summer of 2021 and increased her stock with a strong AAU performance.
“She played for a strong AAU team, played a lot of man-to-man defense and showed she can defend guards,” said Smith. “It helped her.”
Wilkerson had hoped to have a commitment in his pocket before the start of his senior year. It took longer than that, but it finally happened for her. Columbia International’s offer arrived in November.
“I was so grateful for that,” Wilkerson said. “I know I’m one of the lucky ones in my class.
The offer and the engagement took the pressure off his last year.
It’s ironic that as a senior, for the first time in her career, she isn’t North’s top scorer – sophomore Bailee Goodlett leads the Cavaliers and County with 20.1 points per game – but that’s fine with Wilkerson, who has always encouraged young teammates to excel. Wilkerson is playing the best of his career. North’s team are on a nutritional plan and they’ve added muscle and reduced pounds during the offseason. She is sportier than in the past. She drives harder, finishes more efficiently, defends better, shoots higher percentages from the outside, while averaging 16.8 points per game for a 9-3 team.
“We’ve always asked Hannah to play a lot of positions, but she was able to focus on her role as a goaltender this season,” said Smith. “It’s a guard that can go out there and give us a double-double, and not many 5-foot-8 guards can do that. And she shoots the ball well. She did some big hits when we needed her in the Christmas tournament.
Wilkerson, who is considering a major in sports management, has always been a perfectionist who will return to school after a game and return to the gym to work on something she was not happy with.
She has been admirably consistent on the pitch – 69 double-digit games in 81 starts. She was equally consistent in the classroom where she maintained a 4.3 GPA which helped her get recruited.
“When I was in first grade, West Rowan had Abigail Wilson, South Rowan had Janiya Downs, Salisbury had Bry Troutman and Carson had McKenzie Gadson,” Wilkerson said. “I admired these girls. I always wanted to be like these girls.
She stayed with it. Now people admire him.