Columbus girls basketball coach, players speak on title game berth
As Timothy Wyatt counts down the days before his daughter, Tatyana, plays in the 4A state championship basketball game, he can’t help but think back to his daughter’s humble beginnings in the sport.
It was around Wyatt’s fifth-grade year when she came to her father with some news. After watching her own pediatrician at work and then seeing her grandfather battle cancer, Wyatt had decided she wanted to be a pediatric oncologist when she grew up.
The news caught Timothy a little off guard. At the same time, he thought of a way to make it happen for his only child with wife Nancy.
“She had told me she had wanted to become a doctor,” Timothy said. “I told her I really couldn’t afford that, but I knew how to get her there. I gave her a basketball and told her, ‘This will help us get you where you want to go.’ ”
That well-intentioned decision to get Wyatt on the basketball court has led her to an outstanding playing career.
As one of the standouts for the Columbus Lady Blue Devils, the 6-foot-2 forward has wreaked havoc on opposing teams over the past four years and has eclipsed 2,000 career points. She ends her high school career in a fitting way Friday, as she leads Columbus into a showdown with rival Carver in the Class 4A state championship at Georgia Tech.
“I just want all of us to play our hardest, leave everything on the floor and have a whole bunch of fun,” Wyatt said. “We just want to get the job done and make history at Columbus High School.”
Columbus’ history books would have been left undisturbed had Timothy not pushed Wyatt to pick up the game. Even early on in her playing career, it seemed like the idea was far-fetched.
Wyatt was always the tallest in her class going back to elementary school. Even with the height advantage, basketball was not something she was immediately drawn to.
“I really didn't like basketball at all,” Wyatt said. “It was something that was like forced on me when I was younger. Continuing to play (helped) grow my love of the game.”
Wyatt said her affinity for the game came during her time at Arnold Middle School. She began to come into her own, which started to fuel the idea that playing collegiately could be a real option if she worked hard enough for it. The importance of work ethic was stressed by Timothy, who emphasized an inferior athlete could beat anyone if he or she outworked the opponent.
Columbus head coach Joe Cherrone first saw Wyatt and Arnold teammate Ariyah Copeland around their eighth-grade year. Right away, Cherrone keyed in on Wyatt’s efforts to improve as something that could take her far in the sport.
“I just knew right off the bat she’d be something special just because of her work ethic,” Cherrone said. “She’s just an all-around great person, and when you get someone like that on your team, that’s willing to be coached and do things the right way, it makes it a lot easier.”
Wyatt cracked the starting lineup at Columbus as a freshman and contributed in her first high school season. She showed signs of her special abilities throughout the year, particularly her uncommon ability to dominate down low and shoot from behind the arc.
The Lady Blue Devils utilized Wyatt and made a deep playoff run, ultimately falling to Redan in the championship game.
The next three years saw Wyatt grow into the game and her ability to be a leader. As her accuracy from 3-point range improved and she strengthened her play around the rim, her basketball IQ increased, allowing her to better understand what in-game adjustments needed to be made.
“The development has been tremendous, especially her shooting,” Cherrone said. “Being 6-2 and being able to have a pure stroke like she has is something you don’t find a lot of 6-2 players doing. UConn keeps a lot of those girls.”
Wyatt may play like a Huskie, but once Friday’s game concludes, she’ll be a Wildcat. Wyatt signed with Kentucky in November, ensuring her push to reach the collegiate level will come to fruition.
As big as basketball is in Kentucky, the school’s medical program played just as big of a role in luring Wyatt to Lexington.
“They were more excited about her medical profession than they really were about basketball,” Timothy said. “I was just blown away by how much they wanted her to be enrolled in that medical program and how they got all these doctors to come there and speak to her when we went on our official visit.”
Once Friday’s game arrives, Timothy will be among Wyatt’s group of siblings, uncles and aunts in McCamish Pavilion. He’s sure to talk to Wyatt and her teammates as they warm up like he normally does, though he said he’s cut back on giving advice as Wyatt’s abilities have improved.
Timothy admits it’s nerve-racking to watch Wyatt out on the floor, so he normally tries to make eye contact with her to make sure she’s OK. More often than not, Wyatt waves off his worry and lets him know everything is under control.
Wyatt’s grounded persona toward her father matches how she examines her basketball career.
She doesn’t particularly care how many points she’s scored as a Lady Blue Devil, insisting records are added bonuses when the team is winning. She also doesn’t look back negatively at losing the first state title game and was instead ecstatic that another appearance is lined up.
Wyatt is seeking the rare chance to close her high school career as a champion. If the game resembles anything like the rest of Wyatt’s time at Columbus, you can rest assured that win or lose, the senior forward will have given it everything she had.
“I'm just really grateful to make it my last year and hopefully go out with a bang,” Wyatt said.