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Everything to Know About "GOAT" Basketball Player A’ja Wilson

The former record-breaking South Carolina Gamecock and current WNBA superstar on the Las Vegas Aces is, simply put, one of the greatest female players to have ever played the game. 

By Andrew Woodin
Kelly Clarkson, Peyton Manning & Mike Tirico Preview Paris Olympics Opening Ceremony

Few athletes around the globe can say they’ve achieved what the superstar women’s basketball player A’ja Wilson has in just her 27 years on the planet.

For most, the type of transcendent success that Wilson makes look so easy day in and day out is only relegated to their dreams but, for Wilson, that’s just standard operating procedure. Lauded by LeBron James, Steph Curry, and a myriad of other iconic basketball players, she’s not the exception to rule — she’s the unstoppable force that smashes through it like a battering ram, then lines up for more.

As expected, A'ja is likely to be headed to the 2024 Paris Olympics and is included among the 18 basketball players participating in a Team USA minicamp in January. Following the training, 12 players will be chosen to compete in the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, taking place in Antwerp, Belgium from February 8-11. 

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Where is Team USA’s A’ja Wilson from?

Born August 8, 1996, to parents Roscoe C. Wilson Jr. and Eva Rakes Wilson, A’ja Riyadh Wilson hails from Hopkins, South Carolina, just 20 miles outside of the palmetto state’s capital of Columbia. Wilson, who, according to ESPN, originally wanted to be an author and an illustrator as a child, couldn’t escape the fact that a keen understanding for the game of basketball was brewing within her. And thanks to the unwavering tutelage of her father, who played at Benedict College and professionally in Europe for a decade, A'ja was diligently trained in the ins and outs of the sport.

Though she towered over her peers, had long arms, and could light up defenses from behind the arc with her silky-smooth stroke, Wilson’s father Roscoe credits his daughter’s dauntless drive as the DNA of her success.

“I knew A’ja was going to be good, not because of her performance but because of her work ethic,” her father revealed to Sports Illustrated in 2021.

A’ja Wilson's Career in College Basketball

A'ja Wilson and head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks hold the NCAA trophy and celebrates with their team after winning the championship game against the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs of the 2017 NCAA Women's Final Four

After winning a state championship in 2014 at Heathwood Hall High School, where she also earned the Naismith and WBCA High School Player of the Year and, among other accolades, became a McDonald’s All-American, Wilson excelled both on and off the court at the University South Carolina. While she majored in mass communications, Wilson led the Gamecocks to the 2017 Women’s National Championship — the first in the school’s history. Despite being benched by head coach Dawn Staley as a freshman, who Wilson considers to be her “second mom,” the six-foot-five power forward owns countless school records, including the most career points (2,389), most career blocked shots (363), and most made free throws in a career (597), all coalescing to make her the most decorated athlete of all time at the university.

While speaking to CBS Sports this year about why Wilson is “the best player in the world,” Staley referenced her former phenom’s “fire and desire” to succeed.

"She's crazy," noted Staley, who coached Wilson the hometown hero from 2014-2018 at the University of South Carolina. "She is crazy good. Meaning she is funny, she is smart. She has an incredible appetite, insatiable desire to be great."

Who does A’ja Wilson play for in the WNBA?

After being selected first overall in 2018 WNBA draft by the Las Vegas Aces, A’ja Wilson picked up exactly where she left off in college and never looked back, winning Rookie of the Year in her first season.

Emulating the dominance of the four-time champion Sheryl Swoopes, who was the first athlete the WNBA signed at its inception in 1996, Wilson earned her first league MVP title in 2020, followed by her second in 2022. Channeling the vast repertoire of Michael Jordan, whom she draws inspiration from, Wilson’s deep bag of mid-range jumpers and technical post prowess helped vault the Aces to back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023. Though she didn’t win her third league MVP Award after eclipsing the New York Liberty with an average double-double stat line of 21.3 points and 12.5 rebounds — the coveted award went to New York’s Breanna Stewart — her phenomenal performance and gritty toughness landed No. 22 the Finals MVP.

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"This is a moment that we need to celebrate," Wilson noted after the triumphant victory, according to ESPN. "Not a lot of people get a chance to do it, and for us to do it short-handed is truly amazing. It just makes this win that much better.”

Having also seen her superstar power forward score a career-high 53 points to tie the league’s single-game record, Wilson’s coach Becky Hammon, whose 16 seasons in the WNBA pitted her against all of the greats — Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, and Sue Bird, among others — saved the highest praise of all for Wilson during the Aces’ championship parade this year.

“I played against all of the GOATs,” stated Hammon, who also served as an assistant under the legendary San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “I’m gonna put it out there. ... This [Wilson] is gonna be the GOAT of all GOATs.”

A’ja Wilson's Olympic Achievements

In addition to her two World Cup titles (2018, 2022) with Team USA, during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Wilson kept her foot on the gas, helping the American squad tally a 6-0 record on the way to securing the gold medal — the team’s seventh in a row and ninth out of the 11 Olympic competitions it’s competed in. While Brittney Griner delivered an epic 30-point performance in the gold-medal game against the host nation, Wilson notched an impressive average of 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds. For an in-depth analysis of her international stats, check out her page on USA Basketball.  

A’ja Wilson's Foundation

While Wilson leads an exhaustive life on the court, she hasn’t slowed down off the court, pursuing various philanthropic endeavors in the realm of mental health and education.

With the help of her parents, she founded the A’Ja Wilson Foundation, which aims to assist children and their families who struggle with dyslexia — a learning disorder Wilson battled through high school and college — and empower them to reach their full potential through grant opportunities, workshops and educational programming. Her eponymously named foundation also works to prevent bullying by encouraging compassion and peer inclusivity through mentor programs.   

A'ja Wilson reacts to a play in the third quarter of Game One of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs semifinals against the Dallas Wings

As it pertains to raising mental health awareness, in a 2023 interview with Esquire, Wilson explained why she talks about her own hardships with mental health, and why it’s so crucial to help young athletes who are also struggling with their own experiences.

“So many different things can really hurt you mentally,” detailed Wilson. “It shouldn’t be secretive. It shouldn’t have to be like, ‘Well, if you need help, we have somebody.’”

“That’s something that should already be in those conversations, freshman year in college or rookie orientation — not like, ‘Wait till it gets really, really bad and then we can help you,’” she added. “It comes on us as professional athletes to continue to talk about it and be open about it. And it’s hard. It really is hard. I hate when people get in my privacy or in my mind, but at the same time, if me talking it out helps the next person, I’m down for it.”

Though incredibly active away from the sport she loves, Wilson still saves time for herself, and the highly decorated athlete likes to unwind with a little karaoke. 

“I am sick on the microphone,” Wilson told Sports Illustrated. “Whatever you want, I can sing it, Auto-Tune or no Auto-Tune. My stage presence is perfect. American Idol should bring me on.”

Plus, she said, “If Beyoncé ever wants to perform a duet with me, I would be open to it.”

To see how Team USA performs at the 2024 Olympics, tune in to Peacock and NBC beginning July 26.

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