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A star that's just getting started

She leads Wesley Chapel with 21.4 points per game. She also is averaging 6.6 rebounds, five steals and 3.2 assists. Standing at nearly 5-foot-10, she is the Wildcats' biggest scoring threat, top playmaker and best ballhandler.

And she's only 14.

She is only a freshman.

But there is nothing about Sthefany Thomas that betrays a hint of her youth. Not her skills. Not her game. Not her size. Not her production, or her physical and mental maturity, or her career goals.

At 7-5, Wesley Chapel is enjoying a record season after three subpar years. The Wildcats boast the program's best, most talented lineup under second-year coach Mark Kopp.

The introduction of Thomas, a former Weightman Middle School star, this season has only solidified hopes for the school's first playoff berth.

But the only indication this is Thomas' first high school season is the roster. Because on and off the court, there is nothing about her that screams freshman.

"She's a very good kid, a very smart kid and very talented, obviously," Kopp said. "The thing about Sthefany is she wants to be very good and she wants to work on it. She's just a gym rat out here.

"You see that sometimes in kids, but she'll come out and say it: "I want to be in the WNBA. I want a Division I scholarship.' When she says those things, that's very impressive to have that kind of confidence and accountability, that you're going to work for that."

To understand why Thomas is so good at such an early age, one must understand her goals.

"My personal goal is to make it to the WNBA," she said. "But I have to get through college first and keep my grades up.

"To get to that goal you have to have other goals, and right now my goal is to win all the games we can."

Thomas' father, James, was playing overseas when he met her mother, Fabiana, in Argentina. Sthefany Thomas was born in Chile and raised in Argentina before moving stateside with her family three years ago.

"My dad is actually where I get all my skills from," she said. "He's been my coach since I was 7, so I've been playing with him all that time."

Besides winning two middle school titles with Weightman, she also has played AAU ball with Mitchell freshman Kristi Hopper.

For all Thomas has accomplished this season, she knows she has a lot of work to do to earn a scholarship to a top Division I program. Her jump shot still is coming along, and so is her footwork and speed. But her strengths belie her age: She has quick hands on defense, able to anticipate and steal passes.

Her biggest strength, though, is getting to the basket.

"I love taking it to the hole," she said. "I think nobody can stop me. I think taking it to the basket and penetrating is just my thing."

Thomas is a natural wing player, better suited to play small forward with her size and quick first step to the basket. But because she is the Wildcats' best ballhandler, the team needs her more at point this season.

"I think she's more of a wing," Kopp said. "But she's our best ballhandler by far, she's our best point guard and she gives us the best chance to succeed.

"The fact that she's almost 5-10 as a freshman and I can put her at point is amazing."

Said Thomas: "I can play any position. If coach tells me to play point guard, I'll play point guard. I'll play wherever coach tells me to. I don't love it, it's not really my position, but I'll play it because I can play that position. You have to have other strengths as a player."

In that respect her skill level, age and attitude make her as unique as her first name, an imaginative gift from her mother.

"It's supposed to be English and Spanish (spelling) all at the same time," Thomas said. "It's like I'm the only one in the world who has that name.

"I think it's special."

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