Former Weddington High School basketball star Stephanie Watts has been spending time this summer jumping on a trampoline, working out on the treadmill and doing some light biking.
Shooting the basketball is not on Watts’ to-do list right now.
No, the former McDonald’s High School All-American and North Carolina junior has not given up basketball. Watts can’t wait to get back on the court and do what she does best, but the 5-foot-11 guard for the Tar Heels is instead sticking to a strict rehab regimen following knee surgery late last season.
Watts was having a stellar sophomore season for North Carolina before aggravating an already injured knee against Notre Dame on Jan. 22. Watts tried to play through the injury but was eventually shutdown and she missed the last five games of the season.
Watt’s knee surgery repaired a hole in her cartilage and a partially torn meniscus. Watts is now well into her fourth month of a planned six-month rehab and she is optimistic she will be ready to play in the Tar Heels season opener in November.
“I rehab every day and I am doing strength and conditioning,” Watts said. “I do some biking and jogging and I jump on a trampoline for balance. I do things like that every day.”
In the next couple of weeks, Watts hopes to be back on the court to start shooting the basketball.
“I just started jumping in rehab, so I think I will be able to shoot soon,” Watts said in a July 12 interview. “I should be back by the start of the season. This has been real tough for me personally because I have never had a serious injury. But the (North Carolina) coaching staff and my (North Carolina) teammates have helped me through it.”
Despite missing the final five games, Watts still finished the year as the Tar Heels No. 1 offensive and defensive rebounder. Her 81 3-pointers last season currently ranks sixth for the most in a single season in North Carolina history.
In a non-conference game last November against Charleston Southern, Watts scored a career high 39 points while setting an Atlantic Coast Conference single-game record for 3-pointers with 10. That effort landed Watts ACC Player of the Week accolades that week.
“That was a good game for us,” Watts said. “The coaches sent in a lot of good plays for me to get open on threes. My teammates found me if I was open for a split second. That helped a lot too.
“I put in a lot of work on my 3-point game so I can make those shots when my coaches and teammates give me that opportunity. It just happened to be a good day for me.”
Watts finished her sophomore season averaging 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game. She ranked 12th in all of NCAA women’s basketball in 3-point field goals made per game with 3.1. Watts also ranked 27th in the country in 3-point attempts with 249.
Watts also recorded nine double-doubles last year and she went for 28 points and 11 rebounds against Alabama A&M and for 25 points against Wake Forest.
Watts’ freshman year was also a memorable one as she was named the ACC Freshman of the Year while also being named to the All-ACC second team. As a freshman, Watts averaged 14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks a game. She started 29 of 32 games her first season in Chapel Hill.
Watts said the difference between college basketball and high school basketball is a big one.
“The biggest difference during games was the pace of the game and during practices, the coaches critique everything that you do at practice,” Watts said. “I learned a lot my first year here.”
As a senior at Weddington High School, Watts was named a Naismith and McDonald’s All-American and she competed in the McDonald’s High School All-America Game where she scored 19 points. As a senior, Watts was ranked the No. 24 player in the country by ESPN.
Watts, who was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, averaged 29.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 4.7 steals and 2.4 blocks a game in her final season with the Warriors.
Ryun Cook coached Watts at Weddington High and he said he is not surprised by Watts’ success.
“Where we are in North Carolina, we see a lot of great high school basketball,” Cook said. “Most coaches in this area never see a player like Stephanie. She is the only McDonald’s High School All-American in Union County history, boys or girls.
“What stands out to me in her high school career is she had two quadruple-doubles in high school and there are only four in girls history in North Carolina. She has two of them. Quadruple-doubles, you can’t get any more well-rounded than that.”
North Carolina finished last season at 15-16 overall and 3-13 in the ACC, but Watts said the Tar Heels have the talent for a breakout season in 2017-2018.
“Our goal is to get better every year,” Watts said. “I think we will be one of the top teams in the ACC with all the players we have coming back and all the players that are getting so much better. For me personally, I just want to get better in all aspects of my game.
“It is such an honor to play for North Carolina. I get to play here in this great arena, get all this great gear and play for a Hall of Fame coach. It’s the biggest blessing and I am humbled to be here.”