Las Vegas A’ja Wilson still remembers her 12th birthday party. The opening ceremony for the Olympics in Beijing fell on her birthday on August 8, so she decided to have an Olympic-themed party around the Games.
From his home in Columbia, South Carolina, Wilson watched the U.S. women’s basketball team win its fourth straight Olympic gold medal. Now, the reigning WNBA MVP will celebrate her 25th birthday on the day of the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics, and she hopes she will be wearing her own gold medal.
“It would be crazy,” Wilson said. “I do not even know how to even say gold medal at this point, but what is added to my resume would be huge. I was just talking to one of my teammates about it and we were like, ‘Are we getting the Olympic rings tattooed on us?’ I’m like ‘Yes, we have to. This is huge. ‘”
The Tokyo Games may be Wilson’s first Olympics, but this is not her first time playing for Team USA head coach Dawn Staley – Staley coached Wilson for four years at the University of South Carolina. Gamecocks went to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament when Wilson was a freshman and won a national championship his junior year. Staley has led the South Carolina women’s basketball team since 2008, and she was named head coach of the national team in 2017.
“When I was a player for her in college, we would hate it when she was going to the United States because she was so cool and relaxed around them,” Wilson said. “It’s good to be on that side of things now, because in the end we are professionals. We know what to do, so it’s pretty cool that I do not have to get the toughest trainer on a daily basis – I can get a chill coach. ”
Staley said she spoke early with Wilson in her recruitment process in South Carolina about her potential to make a career out of basketball, and she’s proud to see how Wilson now puts those goals into use.
“Seeing A’ja’s growth on and off the field is really special,” Staley said. “I obviously have a really good, strong relationship with her. To see her grow and mature into a WNBA MVP, play in a WNBA championship, be on the Olympic team, all her partnerships … I’m really honored to be her coach and like to share in the moment and this journey to win a gold medal. “
In January, Wilson’s alma mater honored her with a statue outside the Colonial Life Arena. She remains the most decorated athlete in the history of Gamecock’s women’s basketball program, and she said her time in South Carolina played a significant role in her growth as a player.
“I think I really fall in love with who I am,” Wilson said. “In college, I was such a people more pleasant. I wanted to be involved in everything, but now I love who I am. I love the people around me. I’m just here to feel good, just vote and enjoy my life. ”
Wilson has been a star in the WNBA since her rookie season in 2018. She has been an All-Star in every season except in 2020, when the WNBA did not have an All-Star game. She was the league MVP in 2020 and led the aces to the WNBA Finals.
This season has been no exception. She is third in the league in total points scored, first in free throws, and second in rebounds. The 15-6 aces are ranked No. 2 in the league, just behind their old rival, Seattle Storm, which they lost in the 2020 final. Off the field, Wilson collaborated with Mountain Dew to produce a series of her own brands and modeling in the launch of Kim Kardashian’s loungewear line for Team USA.
Although the WNBA team will be separated during the Olympic break, Wilson will play alongside Aces teammate Chelsea Gray at the Games, and Kelsey Plum will also be in Tokyo as a member of Team USA’s 3×3 basketball team.
“You do not have that fear of the unknown because you already know many of these players, but to have your point guard and also your old college coach there, it’s really like a family affair at this point,” Wilson said.
Contact Emily Adams at email@example.com or on Twitter @ eaadams6.
This article was originally published in USA TODAY: Team USA reunites WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson with college coach Dawn Staley
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