There was no real mystery. Mock drafts and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley predicted it.
There were still a few nervous seconds before it was actually announced.
“The nerves are gone now,” said A’ja Wilson, surrounded by her parents, brother and USC coaching staff. “It’s truly a blessing.”
As expected, Wilson was picked No. 1 overall during Thursday’s WNBA Draft, sending her to Las Vegas to begin her professional career. The 6-5 unanimous National Player of the Year, the most decorated athlete in USC history, became the third Gamecocks athlete to ever be selected No. 1, following the NFL’s George Rogers (1981) and Jadeveon Clowney (2014).
Wilson will head to training camp on April 29 with preseason games beginning May 4. The Aces’ regular season begins May 20 at Connecticut.
Her starting salary will be $52,564, equal to the salary of players drafted 2-4. The average WNBA salary is $79,235, with top salaries capped at $115,500 for players with at least six years of service.
“It means a lot to me to just kind of cap off my collegiate career with this. Just to be at the top really makes my heart warm,” Wilson said. “I’m pretty sure you could see my heart pounding through my jumpsuit when (WNBA President Lisa Borders) was announcing me.”
Wilson said last week that she didn’t know the background of her new coach, Bill Laimbeer, who won back-to-back NBA championships with the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons. Laimbeer also coached the Detroit Shock to three WNBA championships and guided the New York Liberty to a runner-up finish in 2015, coaching the same way he played — unapologetically and hard-nosed.
Any concerns on Wilson’s part?
“I’m pretty sure his expectations are kind of the same as coach Staley’s. You have to come in and be effective as soon as possible,” she said. “He’s expecting me to do the things I did in college to make him want me.”
“That’s the question mark we’re going to have to work our way through,” Laimbeer said. “It’s a big step for her, but that’s what pro basketball is all about.”
Laimbeer raved about Wilson’s game last week, crediting her decision-making alongside her stellar talent. “You don't get many players that can drive like she can. She can attack the basket with one dribble and cover a tremendous amount of ground,” he said.
“I think overall those intangibles may set her apart from a lot of the other big players out there. I think in our league, her biggest thing, she's going to scare a lot of the people guarding her because she's able to take the ball to the basket off the drive.”
Legendary college and WNBA player Rebecca Lobo also loves what Wilson brings to the league.
“A’ja’s such a unique talent in terms of having the size and the skill set she has. She’ll become even better playing with physical contact,” Lobo said. “She’s one of the players you look at and say, ‘This is a player who could eventually be an Olympian, eventually be a WNBA all-star.’”
Wilson is on track to graduate from USC in May with a degree in mass communications. She will walk in her graduation ceremony if she can fit it into her schedule.
Commencement is May 11-12. The Aces have a preseason game on May 13.
Wilson thanked her fans one more time for always supporting her and pledged to forever be loyal to USC. She’s hoping to see a lot of familiar faces when the Aces play their only game in Atlanta on Aug. 7.
And she naturally had a soundbite for her future Las Vegas fans.
“What happens in Sin City, stays in Sin City,” she said.