Wilderness' defense on Curry could swing game
A 6-foot-6 freshman forward for the Charlotte 49ers, he relishes the new challenge each game brings, and he'll get his biggest test yet as Charlotte hosts county rival Davidson at 7:30 tonight at Halton Arena in the annual battle for the Hornet's Nest Trophy.
The Wildcats feature prolific scorer Stephen Curry, son of former NBA player Dell Curry. The younger Curry will draw the bulk of Charlotte's -- and Wilderness' -- defensive effort.
"I always look for the big challenge," Wilderness said. "I'm going into the game with the plan of trying to see if I can stop him from shooting. I think I can do that."
That's not cockiness, just the reality of Charlotte's game plan.
Every 49ers practice since Charlotte's 63-59 win against Wake Forest last Thursday has included multiple warnings from coach Bobby Lutz: "Know where Curry is on the court at all times."
"He's a good player. From what I see, he can shoot the ball well and he has a good game," Wilderness said of Curry. "I also see some weakness in his game, too, that I think we can use to stop him from getting the wide-open shots that he likes."
Wilderness' defense-first approach is contagious on this Charlotte team, and with eight new players this team is a far cry from the one the Wildcats (3-3) dismantled 79-51 last season at Belk Arena.
Charlotte (4-2) is bigger, more athletic and has made significant strides on the defensive end. Defense has carried the 49ers in most of their wins as their offense has struggled.
Wilderness has played key roles on both ends of the floor.
In Charlotte's 84-78 win against Appalachian State, Mountaineers guard Kellen Brand blistered the 49ers with 16 first-half points, then was shut down for much of the second half with Wilderness guarding him.
In the Wake Forest victory, it was Wilderness' offense and penchant for driving to the basket that led the way as he scored a career-high 21 points to top all scorers.
"We thought when we recruited An'Juan that he was in the mold of some former (49ers) small forwards that were defensive-minded like James Zimmerman, Galen Young and Eddie Basden," Lutz said. "We thought he would be pretty good at it.
"He's as good as we thought and maybe a little bit better this early. It's a long year, but he's off to a good start."
Wilderness was scheduled to join Charlotte last season, but opted for a year in prep school and attended the Patterson School in Lenoir. The former three-time Class AAA Georgia player of the year re-signed with the 49ers, becoming a key ingredient in Lutz's rebuilding after a 14-16 season last year.
Even a delayed arrival to Charlotte didn't prevent Wilderness from understanding the significance of tonight's game.
"I heard all about the Davidson game last year and what happened," he said. "I know it's a big game. It's like an intense high school rivalry game, but even bigger."