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A Touch of Pepper

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A skilled 6-6 center is a rare commodity in women's basketball, which explains why Shawnice "Pepper" Wilson received over 100 scholarship offers out of Pittsburgh's Westinghouse High School a couple of years ago.

Wilson, a two-time City League Player of the Year at Westinghouse, visited just two universities – Pitt and Miami-Florida. The Panthers sold her on being the male version of DeJuan Blair, a "hometown hero" who chose Pitt and is now in the NBA.

But while staying home worked for Blair, it wasn't as good a fit for Wilson, who left Pitt last year and sat out the 2010-2011 season as a transfer at Miami.

"I wasn't happy at Pitt, and it reflected on the court," said Wilson, who averaged 6.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in her two years at Pitt. "I got caught up in being the 'hometown hero' and wasn't producing like I should. I got tired of being home. I wanted to make a name for myself somewhere else. I knew I needed to fix this."

Wilson said she almost transferred in November of her sophomore season. But by that point, the season was upon her, and she did not want to be a distraction to her Pitt teammates and decided to stick it out one more year.

"I don't regret my time at Pitt. I learned a lot," said Wilson, who was a finalist for the U.S. Under-19 team while with the Panthers. "I knew I was going to miss my teammates. But it's my life and my career."

Wilson said Pitt coach Agnus Berenato wasn't pleased with her decision but ultimately did not stand in her way.

Once Berenato had been informed, Wilson knew where she wanted to go - Miami.

But Wilson never realized how tough it would be to sit out a season. She has never been seriously injured has always been a starter, so watching instead of playing was torture.

Wilson said her most painful game to watch this past  season was against  Boston College, which features two tall post players at 6-6 and 6-4. Miami eventually defeated the Eagles, but BC's post players dominated the boards and scored repeatedly in the paint.

"It was killing me to have to watch," said Wilson, who is majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology. "The one area where we struggled is lack of height. Those 10 or so points that teams got on us because of size, they won't get next season.

"But I have aspirations to coach, and this has been beneficial to me to really learn the game and get ready physically and mentally for next season."

Wilson, who goes by 'Pepper' in honor of her late grandmother who gave her the nickname at birth, will join a young and talented Hurricanes squad that returns every roster member next season. Among the Miami standouts are guards Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson—the top two scorers in the ACC—and forward Morgan Stroman.

Wilson, who said her goal next season is to average 15 points and 12 rebounds, compares Williams and Johnson to her former Pitt teammate, guard Shavonte Zellous – now in the WNBA.

"The only difference," Wilson said, "is that we have two guards like that."

Wilson believes the Canes could be truly dangerous once she is added to the mix.

"We should be top 10 easily," Wilson said. "We could go all the way - no question."

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