COLUMBIA — Despite the impressive numbers A'ja Wilson has put up to start her WNBA career, the No. 1 pick in the draft admits she still has a lot to learn. Especially how to deal with losing.
"The easiest thing was getting on a plane and moving out here," Wilson, the Las Vegas Aces' rookie, said Wednesday. "The rest has been pretty tough."
The Aces, in their first year in Las Vegas after relocating from San Antonio, have a roster full of young players — nine of their 13 players have three years of experience or less — who are struggling at times against the best women's players in world.
That doesn't always sit well with Wilson, the three-time Southeastern Conference player of the year who helped the Gamecocks to the 2017 national championship. Wilson, who lost just 16 games in four years with the Gamecocks, is more than halfway to that mark already as a pro with the 4-9 Aces.
"It's been a roller coaster of emotions for me," she said.
The hardest part for Wilson, she said, has been staying locked in mentally to go against high-level competition each game. "You can't have mental lapses," she said. "I tend to have a lot of that."
It hasn't always shown in her play, however. The 6-5 Wilson is fourth in league scoring at 20.8 points a game and fifth with 8.2 rebounds. On Tuesday night, Wilson had 25 points and 15 rebound to lead Las Vegas to a 87-77 win over Seattle to snap a two-game losing streak.
Wilson has been aggressive in looking for her shot, but has not yet clicked into that next gear necessary to be one of the league's best, according to Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer.
"I know she can run. She's got to show it a little bit more," he said. "The best part is she's learning."
Wilson was expected to get another lesson Friday night when the Aces hosted the New York Liberty and 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles.
Like Wilson, Charles was a consensus player of the year her final season at UConn in 2010 and led the Huskies to back-to-back undefeated seasons and national championships. Charles was expected to quickly elevate the Connecticut Sun to elite status, but she too struggled at times to adjust when the wins did not come as often.
"My rookie year, we didn't make the playoffs," said Charles, the WNBA rookie of the year in 2010. "It's tough because there's a certain culture that you're used to."
Wilson understands the expectations that come with a No. 1 overall selection after a highly decorated college career. She said Laimbeer has kept her focused on the court and improving each day, instead of what outsiders think.
"There may have been pressure all around me, but I did not feel it," she said.
Wilson accepts she'll get every players' best shot because of her status, even from some former teammates. Last year's WNBA rookie of the year, Allisha Gray of Dallas, is Wilson's good friend and part of the Gamecocks' national title team. When their teams met a week ago, Gray unintentionally hit Wilson in the mouth during the course of play. Wilson shot back at her pal, "You know I have braces!"
Wilson is unsure of her plans following the WNBA season. She has not yet talked with her agent or her family about going overseas, choosing to focus her energy on getting better as a pro in the WNBA.
The hard times won't last, Wilson believes, because she and her teammates are improving each game and anxious for their inexperienced team to become a WNBA force.
"I'm blessed to be able to grow with them," she said. "We're at a place where we can write our own book and tell our own story."