COLUMBIA — The whirlwind hasn’t slowed just because there are no more games to play.
A’ja Wilson was back in front of a camera to receive an award Monday, something she’s very familiar with after spending most of the past two weeks doing the same. Wilson had a public presentation of her Naismith Trophy at Colonial Life Arena despite her winning the award 10 days ago, so South Carolina’s fans — or as Dawn Staley says, “fams” — could also enjoy it.
“You guys played a huge part in our games. You guys really, really, really brought this state together,” Wilson said to the crowd. “This definitely goes out to all you guys. We’ll see how this draft is on Thursday.”
Around 150 people took a chance on a cold overcast day to pay one final respect to the hometown girl who took the Gamecocks to unprecedented heights. Staley, athletic director Ray Tanner and USC president Harris Pastides joined in as Wilson raised the trophy and thanked all that supported her over the past four years.
“A’ja had time to grow into being the face of our program, which gives her an opportunity to grow into being the face of the WNBA. It’s more than just points and rebounds,” Staley said. “You have to have charisma, you have to have a great personality. I’m excited for her, excited for the league, excited for women’s basketball.”
A replica of the Naismith Trophy will be a permanent addition to CLA. It’s the second of its kind in Columbia, matching the replica given to Heathwood Hall Episcopal School when Wilson won the same award out of high school.
She is one of eight women in the game’s history to win the prize in high school and college.
What’s next? More traveling, more cameras, more prizes. Wilson is expected to be the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s WNBA draft, and if she is picked in that spot, will begin her professional career in Las Vegas. The WNBA season begins with training camps on April 29 and could stretch to mid-September depending on playoff results, and then Wilson will have a decision to make.
She could opt to play overseas or to take a break from basketball, to return home and rest. “I have not thought that far ahead at all. Just trying to get to Thursday, honestly,” Wilson said. “I don’t know. Sooner or later, I’ll see how I’m playing, then I’ll go after that.”
Staley interrupted. “She’ll be going overseas to play,” she said, as Wilson offered a meek, “All righty.”
There doesn’t seem to be much mystery about the draft, most analysts expecting Wilson to go first to Las Vegas and Staley saying she’ll be a franchise player for the Aces and “coach Bill,” as in Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer. Staley will always be connected to her star pupil, advising her how to handle a league where she’ll be double-teamed (not triple-teamed, as she often was in college) and on opening up her outside game.
Staley has no doubt Wilson can handle that, which leaves her free to pursue another mission. Staley advised the crowd to flood the inboxes of Tanner and Pastides with requests to build a statue of Wilson.
The statue of Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers at Williams-Brice Stadium cost $275,000. Staley has already pledged the first $100,000 for Wilson's future statue.