By Gabriel Stovall
FOREST PARK, Ga. — Call Avery Wilson the Hines Ward of Forest Park basketball, and he chuckles a bit.
Perhaps there’s a part of him that feels that comparison may be a stretch. After all, he hasn’t even graduated high school yet, while Ward — a former Forest Park football star — is a retired NFL Super Bowl champion.
But on Friday, Wilson took to Twitter to broadcast a bigger step in that direction than perhaps any other Forest Park hooper in recent history — if not ever.
— Avery (@AveryJW_01) April 21, 2017
After a senior campaign that saw the 6-foot-4 guard tally 27.7 points, seven boards and four assists per game, Wilson committed to Boston College, making him perhaps the first Panther in school history to commit to a high-level NCAA Division I college for basketball.
“To my knowledge, this is the first guy from Forest Park who’s had the opportunity to play in the ACC — to play that level of college basketball,” said Panthers head boys basketball coach Jay Jones.
And Jones would be one who should know.
After spending several years as an assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach, Jones was named head varsity coach in the middle of the 2016-17 season after the resignation of coach Steven Love. But before that, Jones, a Forest Park native, was a standout football and basketball player for the Panthers and a member of the Class of 2002.
Jones said Wilson’s commitment to a Power Five conference school is gold for the upward trajectory of Forest Park basketball.
“It means a lot for the program,” Jones said. “Because it shows that the kids at Forest Park High School are putting in work, and deserve the chance to be able to play high-major college basketball. It definitely means a lot for the program’s exposure.”
Despite the midseason coaching change, the Panthers did enough to qualify for the Class AAAAAA state tournament while finishing with a 12-16 overall record and a 9-8 mark in Region 4-AAAAAA. It was enough to earn Jones region coach of the year honors, even as Wilson said he helped round him into a player worthy of Division I consideration.
“(The coaching change) wasn’t really tough, because coach Jay has always been like a brother figure to me,” Wilson said. “It was good. He helped me out, letting me play this year and do what I know I can do.”
Perhaps the largest sample size of Wilson’s peak ability came during Forest Park’s 70-62 win over Woodward Academy at Woodward’s War Eagle Holiday Classic. In that game, Wilson exploded for a career-high 44 points, while hitting clutch bucket after clutch bucket to help the Panthers pull away.
Wilson said he walked away from that game more convinced than ever of the caliber of player he could become.
“That was definitely my highlight moment,” Wilson said. “I left that game saying, I can really be a high-major player in college. It pretty much removed all doubts. I’d had other high scoring games where I’d scored 30 or so points. But those games really built my confidence leading into that game.”
It wasn’t long after that when Wilson’s blip on the recruiting radar began to swell. Through the rest of the season, he received interest from several schools, such as Clemson, Virginia Tech, Kansas State and Troy University.
And then came Boston College. Wilson said Boston College won the day for him because of the no-nonsense approach they used to recruit him.
“They were just real straight forward with me,” Wilson said. “Everything was real. They told me not what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear. The coach pretty much was saying they were gonna give me tough love when I need it. But they’d be there for me. They’d cheer me on when I’m doing well. He told me there would be some tough times, but that I’d get through them.”
The Eagles, led by coach Jim Christian, finished the 2016-17 season with a 9-23 record. Only two scholarship guards are on the Eagles’ roster — Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman. The rest are walk-ons, which means Wilson could see meaningful playing time sooner rather than later.
In short, it was a perfect situation for Wilson, who also played football at Forest Park. And Jones is glad that his high scoring guard exhibited patience in his college selection process.
“The biggest thing all along that I was telling Avery was to get what he wanted in a college, and go somewhere that he can enjoy and become the man he wanted to be,” Jones said. “He did that. He took his time, and I’m extremely proud of his growth. I think the way he went about it showed his patience, and all of the things that Avery is. He’s a reserved, quiet guy. But he’s a patient, smart guy also.”
Wilson said part of his patience has included pushing his way to succeed, despite sometimes feeling a bit overlooked due to Forest Park’s historic lack of program success.
“Yeah, I kinda did feel that way, like people were looking over me because of where I was,” Wilson said. “But I just kept working and kept playing. I just kept doing what I had to do to be the best that I can be. You can’t really control those things, so I just kept playing hard and didn’t really worry about that kind of stuff.
As for his coach, Jones says isn’t shy about how highly he regards Wilson’s talent, even in a talent-rich crop of Clayton County hoopers.
“I put Avery up there with any of them,” Jones said. “Any All-American players, McDonalds All-American players or all-county players that there is. He’s grown physically and mentally over the last couple of years. He’s always had the ability. Now, with where he’s headed, the sky is the limit. He can do whatever he wants to do in basketball. His ceiling is extremely high.”
Wilson holds close to a 3.0 grade point average and said he would major in sports management at Boston College. He said he wants to work on his stamina, being more vocal and improving footwork so he can “become a true point guard.”
What Wilson already has become is one of the more accomplished boys basketball players in Forest Park program history. And the crowning achievement of committing to an ACC school has only had positive implications on the embryonic stages of Jones’ program building.
Jones recalls a time when Wilson was working out for college scouts recently, and how Jones brought up all the rising seniors to work out with Wilson so they could get a taste of playing in front of recruiters. He called it an eye-opening experience for his returning players.
“It does a lot,” Jones said. “It’s major. To see one of their friends get the work in and play on the ACC level. To see the process while scouts work out with him, it’s made them want it more. Over the past three years around the program, I’m used to seeing two or three guys showing up in April for offseason workouts. This year, we started offseason workouts in March, and we’re getting 10 to 15 guys each time.”
And knowing that his success is having ripple effects throughout the program he’s soon leaving behind only adds to Wilson’s satisfaction.
“It made me feel good about the legacy I’m leaving here,” Wilson said. “I found out that I might be the only person to sign with a high-major school ever. So that’s huge. I’m glad I left the younger guys with goals. They played with me and they know it can happen for them too.”