NORMAL (HOI) -- ISU freshman point guard Maya Wong is from Normal, Illinois, but her path to college basketball has been anything but normal.
Wong decided not to play her senior year at Normal Community High School, instead hopping across town to redshirt for a year at Illinois State.
"When her and her family approached us two years ago about this time of maybe Maya forgoing her senior year to come to Illinois State a year early and just get acclimated. I was like 'are you serious? This is phenomenal'," said Illinois State Head Coach Kristen Gillespie.
It's this unconventional path that's helping her make an impact in her first year on the court at Redbird Arena.
"It was the best decision I ever made, because of all the experience I got before I even had to step on the court to play a game. If everybody could have that, it would give them a huge advantage, because the college game is so much faster," said Wong.
"I think it's really paid off for Maya. I think freshman year is so challenging for so many different reasons, from socially to academics, to now you throw basketball in, so I think that's why Maya is having a lot of success right now, because she got a those ups and downs so to speak out of the way last year just with practicing. There was no pressure of her performing in games and I think she just feels really comfortable right now," explained Gillespie.
In just her first Missouri Valley game, the redshirt freshman point guard dropped 15 points, a performance built on all the work she put in during her redshirt year.
"I wasn't playing, but maybe I wouldn't have been ready to if I hadn't had that year of learning from everybody and seeing what I needed to work on the most," explained Wong.
Having the hometown kid play for her program was a moment Coach Gillespie had been waiting for.
"I have been watching Maya Wong play since she's been in like sixth and seventh grade. I just remember this little kid running around and you knew she was going to be a pretty good player and just watching her progression over the years has just been so much fun. When we got the verbal commitment out of Maya, that was a really big moment for our program, not only is she an outstanding player, but a local product which is something I think is really special," said Gillespie.
A continued progression that could land Wong in the top 10 of a lot of different career categories at Illinois State.
"I think she can be one of the better guards that ever played here, I just think she just has an innate ability to score the ball. She just has some really special characteristics about her that I think is going to set her up to be really successful," continued Gillespie.
Wong's goal during her time with the Redbirds is to help lead them to an NCAA Tournament berth.
"That's a dream of mine and I know it's a dream of Coach Gillespie's so I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen. I really believe we can do that, we have some special players," said Wong.