Coach was insistent and parent was hesitant, but the kid and her team ultimately thrived.

With what Cecily Wilson described as athleticism that “we don’t know where it came from,” the Mesquite senior guard was born and raised on defense. So when Wildcats coach Candice Gonzales met with Cecily and her father, Craig, between her junior and senior year to discuss her role this season, the family was taken aback.

Gonzales said she could be a good defender and a big-time offensive player. It was a complete contrast to Cecily’s upbringing and mindset.

They balked, but Cecily proved her coach and her team right and became the 2013-2014 Tribune Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

She worked with Dana Hawkins (club coach and father of Mountain View guards Arnecia and Armani Hawkins) last summer to improve her mid-range shot, footwork and fundamentals, sometimes several hundred shots per day.

“I just shot until my arms fell off,” she said.

The Wildcats were a top three team in Division I all season until the offense went cold in a state quarterfinal loss to Hamilton, a loss that continues to bother her even as she watched the NCAA women’s championship game on Tuesday night.

Parallel (perhaps coincidental) to Mesquite’s return to prominence the past couple years, Cecily’s ascension was steady each of her first three years of playing varsity basketball. The 2013-2014 Tribune Girls Basketball Player of the Year made a two-fold leap this season and the 5-foot-9 lefty who’s committed to Long Beach State (Calif.), became arguably the best player in the state: 19.6 points, 9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 4.1 steals and 1.6 blocks.

“Good thing he wasn’t mad either,” she said of her father. “I love defense. Practicing defense is the tough part, but when you get in the game it’s great to prove people who try to stop them, they’re not that good. I like that kind of power over somebody.”

Cecily’s parents and older brother played basketball, but nowhere near “elite” levels, so she doesn’t know what fueled her agility and leaping ability.

The rest has evolved over time through hard work and maturation. She’s training and working out, but not playing club ball before heading to Long Beach: “I don’t want to take someone else’s spot who might be trying to get a scholarship while I’m lucky enough to already have one,” she said.

“She’s always tell me ‘I’m a defensive player,’” Gonzales said. ‘“No you’re not.’ It was getting her to buy in as a threat (offensively). She matured big-time with her leadership, bought into the team concept and helped the girls buy into that. She took her talents to a whole new level.”

Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at or (480) 898-6576.

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