COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Gamecock basketball legend A’ja Wilson knows a thing or two about final fours. She played in two of them during her career. Earlier this week she shared her memories of playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.
A’ja Wilson is the most decorated player in the history of the South Carolina program. Now she’s one of the Gamecocks’ biggest fans.
“I can actually enjoy this final four because I was on pins and needles when I started playing. I’m just so excited to watch these young girls, I feel like they’re my little sisters.”
A’ja got exposed to the big stage early in her career. UofSC reached the final four for the first time ever during her freshman year in 2015. They suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to Notre Dame in the semifinals.
“My freshman year I felt like we were just really, really new. It seemed like everyone knew this secret and it’s like what did we miss out on? Like what is it? You really have to be in it to know how it really feels.”
That painful experience helped Wilson two years later. Carolina made it back to the Final Four in 2017. This time Wilson scores 23 points in the title game against Mississippi State leading the Gamecocks to their first National Championship.
“And I think that’s how I saw it in my junior year. I was just like you know, we’ve been here before, we know what it feels like to be in those runs. Sometimes it may not be going your way, but it’s a matter of just going through it.”
That 2017 team had six future WNBA 1st round draft picks on the roster. One of Dawn Staley’s strong points as a coach is the ability to mold a group of talented individuals into a cohesive championship team.
“Coach Staley is just someone that doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She tells you the good, the bad, the ugly of it all. And I think that’s what helps us develop. Just to be players to be great women.”
The big sister has some words of advice to her little sisters who were denied a chance to play in the big dance last year after it was canceled because of the pandemic.
“This is the biggest stage, like this is what you worked so hard, so, so hard to get to. Especially coming off last year where you didn’t even have the opportunity. So just enjoy the opportunity, have fun, laugh. Show that feeling, show that passion, that’s what it’s really all about.”