CONWAY — Coastal Carolina basketball coach Cliff Ellis says he’s not surprised by what freshman guard Elijah Wilson is doing this season.
Not by the team-leading 16.2 points per game, the program record-tying 420 points as a freshman or the clutch late-game shots that seem to be coming more and more frequently for the rookie standout.
Wilson will plainly admit he, for one, didn’t expect all this, though. Not right away, at least.
“I just thought I was going to come here, just try to find my place and see what I could do in order to fit in,” he said before practice Monday. “And luckily [I‘ve] had a good enough season to accomplish all these goals.”
With his 16 points Saturday in a come-from-behind win over Gardner-Webb, Wilson tied Jack Leasure’s Coastal freshman scoring record – which was set during the 2004-05 season – and he’ll surely break the mark Wednesday night as the Chants visit Winthrop.
Leasure, of course, went down as one of the program’s all-time greats, finishing second on the Coastal career scoring list with 1,893 points while earning a Big South Player of the Year award in the process.
And it’s not unrealistic at this point to think Wilson could one day be in that company as well. The versatile 6-foot-4 guard can just as easily beat a team from the perimeter – his 44 3-pointers rank second on the team – by driving to the basket or by working himself free off the ball for a feed down low, as he did with a couple of pretty reverse layups Saturday night.
After hitting a lull with two single-digit scoring efforts in the span of three games around the new year, he’s scored at least 13 points in the last 11 games and seems to only be getting better and better as this first season progresses. He had a career-high 26 points last Wednesday as he led Coastal back from an 18-point deficit at VMI and hit the decisive 3-pointer over a defender in the final minutes
Overall, he ranks ninth in the Big South in scoring and third among freshmen.
Again, though, Ellis says he had a sense once he started working with Wilson in practice that he had a future star in the making.
“I thought he was going to have a good year, just from what I saw of him this summer. I thought he was going to have a great year,” Ellis said. “I felt good about it, and I was hoping that he would have the year that I thought he could have – and he has.”
Wilson was initially committed to College of Charleston before the Cougars had a coaching change and decided to go a different direction. Wilson headed to prep school for a year after starring at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. – Michael Jordan’s alma mater – and his connection with Coastal assistant Benny Moss (the former UNC Wilmington head coach), he ultimately found his way to the Chants.
Which is looking more and more like a steal for the program.
That said, Wilson says he didn’t know what kind of an impact he’d make as a rookie until after the season opener at Akron, when he scored 15 points in his debut.
“That’s when I got all my jitters and nervousness out,” he said. “I thought the college game was going to be a little tougher or harder than what it was, so that game right there set the marker.”
As for matching the Coastal freshman scoring record – with four regular-season games and the Big South tournament left to go – Wilson said it was a special accomplishment and he admits he has started to think just a little bit about the legacy he might be able to leave after four years with the Chants.
The program’s career scoring mark is held by Tony Dunkin with 2,151 with Leasure second and Keke Hicks (1,622) third. Wilson, who has taken a deferential and humble approach to his feats all season, said he hasn’t looked at the numbers, though; it’s way too early for that.
“That’s actually one of my goals,” he said of finishing among the all-time greats to pass through the program. “I was thinking about it, but I still have a long way to go, a lot of work to put in.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.