By Michael Fitzpatrick
His first words were, besides mama and dada, “LeBron James” and “Cavs.”
He started playing competitive basketball at age 5 and by third grade was ranked the No. 1 player in his age group in the country (yes, they do rank players at that young of an age, so go ahead and roll your eyes and shake your head).
Now, as high school beckons, he just continues to get better and finds himself ranked among the nation’s best eighth-graders. He’s ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 depending on the recruiting service or website. Now he must decide where he wants to go to high school.
The usual suspects of the Northeast Ohio prep basketball powers are in on him. St. Edward, St. Vincent-St. Mary, but there’s also a chance he could stay home and attend Westlake or maybe go to Gilmour, where former St. Ignatius basketball coach Sean O’Toole, who coached him in summer league, is now the athletic director.
Wherever he take his talents, it’s almost a certainty you’ll be reading about and watching highlights of Lee Burneson middle school’s Seth Wilson.
The 14-year-old, 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard is currently lighting up 8th-graders across the Southwestern Conference, where he’s averaging around 23 points a game. His jump shot is pure. His handle is so strong at times it appears he’s channeling Kyrie Irving. He’s also a deft and crafty passer, able to deliver the rock through a thicket of arms and legs and have it land in the hands of a wide-open teammate, often leading to an easy hoop.
In a recent win over Berea-Midpark, he started slowly, scoring seven points in the first quarter, before scoring 13 in the second to lead his team to a win.
Wilson has already been to The Ohio State University on an unofficial visit. NCAA rules forbid him from talking to Thad Matta at this point and other big-time programs have been in touch.
It would be hard not to get a big head when at such a young age you are flown around the country to play at this showcase or that showcase or you can Google your name and up pop your video highlights, but Wilson remains grounded and respectful. In talking with adults everything is always, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”
You can thank his parents, Donovan and Angela Wilson, for that, who will have him read passages in the Bible when he fails, and dribble a basketball in a dark bathroom to hone his dribbling skills.
“We tell him there are no stars in this house,” said Wilson.
In talking with Wilson and his family, it’s almost like he was born to play basketball. He intently started watching basketball with his father at the age of 14 months. Then there was the fascination with LeBron and the Cavs at the same age.
“We thought something was wrong with him,” jokes Angela, who retired after 30 years of working for the Lorain County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and can be spotted at her son’s games keeping score in her own scorebook and shouting out encouragement.
Donovan, always the coach, can be found at games seated right in front of Angela. He’s constantly coaching-up Seth during games and Seth frequently looks over at his dad to get input.
The coach/player relationship goes way back for the two. When most kids his age were banging on pots and pans, Seth Wilson at age 2 was shooting on a miniature hoop. By five, he was traveling with Donovan to Akron and Columbus to play against 7-year-olds because there were no competitive leagues for 5-year-olds in Lorain.
Donovan schooled young Seth in the fundamentals of basketball. A good enough football player to play in college at Morgan State and land a tryout with the New England Patriots, Donovan has worked untold hours with Seth. The two regularly watch tape of games, as well, looking for any edge.
Seth Wilson still has no idea where he’ll go to high school, although the refrigerator in the kitchen of the family’s Westlake home is loaded with the “E” that is the St. Edward insignia.
It’s a well-known fact St. V’s is hot on his trail. He played with LeBron James Jr. when he was seven and LBJ Jr. was five, so that connection exists.
“He could shoot the lights out,” Seth recalls of the younger James.
Caught after a recent basketball game, St. V’s coach Dru Joyce was asked if Wilson was headed to Akron for high school. He responded with a shake of his shoulders as if to say “who knows?” But it’s clear he knows who Wilson is.
And there’s always the LeBron connection lurking. It turns out Wilson played AAU for the King James Shooting Stars as recently as last year. He’ll play with the same group this summer, too, although under a different name, Tru Game.
Seth, for his part, jokes if it was up to him, he’d go to Europe next year and play pro and return to the U.S. when eligible for the NBA draft in 2023.
“One week it’ll be Westlake first, another week it’s St. Ed’s, another St. V’s and another Gilmour,” Seth said of his decision process, which his parents are also heavily involved in.
“We sit and talk about the pros and cons,” said his mom, who knows wherever her son lands he’ll be faced with adversity from time to time.
“There are going to be some issues and problems. We’re just waiting to hear from the Lord,” said Angela.
Wilson’s younger brother, Luke, a fourth-grader in the Westlake schools, doesn’t appear to be too concerned where his sibling ends up.
“I go with the flow,” he said. “As long as they serve pizza at the games.”
Seth Wilson is far from a perfect player, though the walls of the family basement, which are lined with trophies and medals say otherwise.
In the win over Berea-Midpark, an opponent picked his pocket off the dribble and later Seth overthrew a wide-open teammate with a pass that bounced off the gym wall. He also struggled with his shot, although he did play with a broken index finger on his right hand.
But when the game got tight, there was Seth Wilson putting his fingerprints all over it, at one point going coast-to-coast, winding through traffic before curling under the basket to kiss a layup in on the left side using his right hand. On another play, he pounded the ball between his legs several times, before spinning into the key and nailing a short jump shot.
And he knows he can get better. That’s why he and Donovan work on his shot and game for as many as two hours after every game and practice.
So what keeps him hungry and humble?
“Just keeping God first and always knowing there is something I can do better. Nobody ever played the perfect game and nobody has ever been the perfect person except for God. I continue to try to improve and listen to my parents and try to do what they tell me to do, and when I don’t, they correct me, and that’s how we do it,” Seth Wilson said.
At a recent doctor’s visit, Wilson, who has dunked twice in games this season, was told he can expect to grow to be between 6-4 and 6-6. He wears a size 14 shoe and prefers Nike, although he’s headed to an Adidas-invite all-star camp in Washington D.C. this spring.
And to think, Seth Wilson could probably be a big-time prospect in football. As a seventh-grader, he ran through defenses as a running back at Burneson, and as an eighth-grade quarterback this past fall, he threw for at least two touchdowns in every game, except for one.
On the basketball floor, Wilson is what they call in the game “a great teammate.” He said he’d rather pass than score.
“It brings me more joy to see my guys score, get open and make shots, than for me to score,” said Wilson, who surprisingly names notorious ball hog Carmelo Anthony as one of his two favorite players in the NBA. His other favorite is Russell Westbrook.
Bill Bongers, Wilson’s coach at Burneson, said Seth is a “great kid” in the classroom and a “fantastic player” on the court.
“He’s the kind of kid that says together and family first,” Bongers said. “And we didn’t teach him that. You can tell he got that at home. It’s family first, classroom second and basketball third.”
He’s also unselfish, Bongers said.
“He shares the ball. He could be a one-man show when he wants to, but he likes to get everyone involved,” Bongers said.
The eighth-grade team, undefeated a year ago as seventh-graders, and with one loss this year, is stocked with good, young talent.
There is 6-foot-6 Justin Garcia, who transferred to the Westlake schools this year and was a top-rated teen in the state of Indiana in basketball.
Cal Reghi, the son of former Cavs’ announcer Michael Reghi, plays guard on the squad. Charlie Zkiab, Dylan Bednar, Austin Norris, Tim Rence and Lucca Behan all play key roles as well.
“Everybody is playing good ball. We’re getting along well. We’re just trying to have fun because this is the last year before high school,” Seth Wilson says when asked about his team.
As for the future and how good he can be, one could do worse than check with his one-time and future AAU coach Danyelle Love. Love, who played collegiately at Northwestern, has gone on to coach current college players like V.J. King (Louisville), Dererk Pardon (Northwestern) and Luke Kennard (Duke), just to name a few in AAU, so she knows what she’s talking about.
She coached Wilson when he was seven and played with LeBron James Jr. She recalls Wilson didn’t even look like he belonged with the kids he was playing against he stood out so much. She’ll again be his coach in AAU this summer.
She also watched LeBron James develop, which begged the question, who’s better at the same age: LBJ or Seth.
“Right now at this age, it’s close. LeBron was a little longer, but he wasn’t as aggressive as Seth,” Love said.
As for where she thinks Wilson will end up going to high school, she answers.
“I have no idea. Wherever he goes, they’ll be happy,” said Love.
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