LYNN — Classical girls basketball standout Paris Wilkey didn’t just choose to continue her career and education at Franklin Pierce University because she earned an athletic scholarship.
In fact, before the folks at Division II Franklin Pierce were even aware of her basketball talents, it was her GPA and academic abilities that stood out. Looking to major in physical therapy, Wilkey looked at the Rindge, N.H. school because she’s heard great things about the program.
“The physical therapy program is, I heard, one of the best,” the Classical senior said. “My cousin actually went there (though not for physical therapy) and told me that the program was highly recommended and regarded at the school.
“I did early action before they even knew I played basketball, I found out I would have had half my tuition paid just due to my GPA,” Wilkey added. “I got an offer to be in the honors program without them even knowing I played a sport. That’s why I always listened to my mom, or tried to listen to my mom, about keeping my GPA high. I realized why once I got my early action acceptance in the mail.”
But Wilkey will get the chance to continue her basketball career at Franklin Pierce as well, accepting a full athletic scholarship and officially signing her National Letter of Intent Tuesday at Classical. The decision was made months ago, and the wheels were in motion since last season to make Wilkey a Raven.
“I think Franklin Pierce is a great choice for her,” Classical girls basketball coach Tom Sawyer said. “It has the academic program that she wants, it was one of her top schools. When the coach approached me at the end of last year, it was obvious that they were very high on her. So I thought it was a good fit, a good choice and most importantly I’m glad for her, all her hard work and dedication has resulted in this opportunity to play at the next level.”
Before taking on the new challenge of playing at the collegiate level, Wilkey has big goals to achieve this year with the Rams. She’s 122 points away from joining an elite group as a 1,000-point scorer at Classical, and the team has improved each year during Wilkey’s tenure as one of the leaders of the squad. Last season, a 17-5 regular season led to the fourth seed in the Division 1 North tournament for the Rams, though they fell in the quarterfinals to Billerica.
Getting the decision to play at Franklin Pierce out of the way can only be a positive for Wilkey on the court this season.
“We haven’t had a lot of scholarship athletes in the girls basketball program, but every one of the seniors is going through the same process,” Sawyer said. “It may or may not involve basketball, but they’re looking for where they fit next year. So the earlier they can get comfortable with that decision, it’s one less thing they don’t have to worry about as they finish out their senior year and it certainly has an impact on the basketball court as well.”
Wilkey has been a crucial part of what the Rams have been able to accomplish over the past three seasons. She’s been Classical’s main offensive threat, though she’ll come into this season with a strong core of upperclassmen surrounding her.
“Right from the first days we got the chance to take a look at her, we knew she was going to be an impact player,” Sawyer said. “What sets her apart, between being a good and a very, very good high school basketball player, is her work ethic and dedication and the support system that she has. That’s what has set her apart.
“We need her to lead us this year, along with the other seniors, to lead us. She’s obviously going to get a lot of attention, so she’s going to have to figure out how to score points in different ways, and she’ll have to help us on the defensive end too. We’re looking for leadership and that competitive spirit to want to win and help her team win. I’ve seen leaps and bounds growth year after year. “
Wilkey says that she’s spent time this offseason improving both her physical and mental game, and that while the team may not be the most formidable when it comes to size, it will beat you with its speed.
“I feel very confident in the team,” Wilkey said. “Since my freshman year, we’ve always been one of the shorter teams. But I have no doubt we’ll be one of, if not the fastest team in the league. We should have a good record, hopefully even better than last year’s.”
The team, the coaches and the Classical staff have been instrumental in Wilkey’s success, as have, obviously, her mom Christine and her dad Paris, as well as her younger sister, Asia.
“I want to give a great big thank you to my parents for always pushing me hard, as well as the faculty at Lynn Classical,” Wilkey said. “Without their positive impact, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through these four years. The support (at Classical) is just like at home, it’s like a home away from home, just like the basketball team is. It’s a big family that has supported me through thick and thin.”