As Christy Hewatt made her way towards the floor last Wednesday, she could hear footsteps reverberating around College of Charleston’s TD Arena.
Upon emerging from the tunnel, the former Forsyth Central star witnessed a frantic scramble while her team began warming up.
“People in the stands were literally running for their seats, trying to get the best spot,” Hewatt said. “It was beyond exciting.”
Five minutes and 30 seconds after tip-off, Hewatt checked in at the scorer’s table, eyeing opponents dressed in the navy blue jerseys that have become a symbol of women’s college basketball greatness.
In her ninth collegiate game, the freshman was playing against Connecticut. The same Connecticut that’s claimed dominion over the sport during the last decade, dismantling the record books in the process.
A record crowd of 3,868 witnessed the Huskies’ 72-24 victory. For Hewatt, it was a reminder that she’s entrenched at the highest collegiate level.
“It’s definitely a whole different game, to be sure,” she said.
Though recently hampered by a knee injury, the 5-foot-11 forward quickly has emerged as a contributor during her rookie campaign.
Hewatt ranks third on the team in minutes, averaging 25 per game. Her 6.6 points per game are also third on the squad but illustrate the young Cougars’ lack of scoring punch.
Charleston, a Division I team, has no seniors and just three juniors. Hewatt and fellow freshmen Jazz Green and Mikaela Hopkins have all seen ample playing time.
For Hewatt and her team, the year’s been marked by uncertainty and struggle thus far. But her tweaked knee, a departing coach and Charleston’s 2-7 start have failed to dampen Hewatt’s spirits.
“I love it here,” she said from a hotel in New Orleans Tuesday ahead of this week’s Tulane DoubleTree Classic. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, ever.”
Not even after learning before the season that the woman who recruited her would only lead the team for one more season.
Nancy Wilson, whose two stints as the Cougars’ coach total 16 years and have yielded a 304-192 record, announced in June she will resign at the end of the season.
Hewatt’s emotions were mixed when she heard the news.
“At first it was definitely a surprise, and I didn’t quite know what to think,” she said. “But I realized it’s kind of exciting and scary at the same time.”
Wilson has repeatedly said this season her feelings are on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, too.
But she hopes the young core she’s built, Hewatt included, will make life easier on whoever takes over the program the coach helped build.
“It’s going to be tough being away from this group of players, because I just like them,” Wilson said. “Hopefully I’m leaving them in a position where they can do real well in the future.”
The team’s inexperience combined with poor shooting is behind a lackluster start to the season, Wilson said. The Cougars enter Wednesday night’s game against Tulane shooting 28.9 percent and are scoring 44.2 points per game while giving up 60.
Playing teams like Connecticut has slightly skewed those numbers, however. Charleston’s loss to the Huskies is one of three against teams ranked in the top 35 of the RPI.
“It’s definitely caused us to come closer, to trust each other and lift each other up,” Hewatt said. “I think we sometimes feel like it can’t get any worse, so we’ve got nothing to lose.”
The season couldn’t have started any better for Hewatt.
She led Charleston in scoring with 14 points in the Cougars’ 58-43, season-opening win against East Carolina. Her coach was pleased, but not shocked.
“She did some real athletic things on the floor,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t a surprise because I’d expected her to do well.”
Hewatt suffered her knee injury against Furman Dec. 3 and didn’t play in a 49-44 win against Wofford two days later. A break for finals gave her a week-and-a-half to heal and return against Davidson.
She’s been working her way back to 100 percent since then and expects to play this week.
She played in her home state Nov. 17 for a game at Georgia and scored nine points. She was also back in Cumming during the team’s brief holiday break.
Life after high school has been an adjustment, but taking a couple summer courses helped ease her transition.
So have her teammates, Hewatt said.
“They’ve never really made me feel like a freshman,” she said. “We’ve come together really fast.”
The results have yet to appear on the court, but there’s still a lot of season left.
“The more experience our players get, the better they’re going to be,” Wilson said. “Different people play well for us at different times. We’ve got to come together and develop consistency so we can expect the same things from the same people every night.”
If the season’s infancy is any indication, Hewatt could quickly become a vital ingredient in that mix.
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter @PhilErvin_FCN