A’ja Wilson and USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach Dawn Staley have a special bond.
As the Red, White and Blue gear up for the FIBA World Cup in Tenerife, Spain — September 22-30 — thus far it’s been Wilson who has led Staley’s squad in scoring in all four exhibition games. Should the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year make the cut as the roster is trimmed down from 16 to 12, it would represent a reunion for Wilson and Staley.
The two led the University of South Carolina to new heights during Wilson’s phenomenal collegiate career, capturing the school’s first NCAA Championship during her junior season.
Wilson recognizes how special it is that they are once again back together on a basketball court.
“I’ve been coached by Dawn for years,” Wilson said. “To see her out here as the head coach with USA and giving back to the game, and the game returning it to her, is a lot of fun.”
A USAB assistant since 2006, Staley took over as head coach in March 2017. When asked about her feeling of being able to coach the best players in the country at such a high-level event, she showed respect for the brand that USA Basketball represents.
“Our culture is the type of chemistry that is selfless — it’s sacrificing everything to win gold,” Staley said. “Anyone that comes into the sanctity that is USA Basketball knows that.”
Diana Taurasi, one of the veteran leaders of this USA Basketball team, already sees Staley making her mark.
“I think Dawn and the coaching staff have done a great job at just implementing the things that we’re known for at USA Basketball: being unselfish, playing hard, playing for each other,” Taurasi said. “They’re such a great group. It’s always a challenge, to get together in this small amount of time and to beat the best teams in the world and get a chance to compete against them. At the same time, you get to play with a lot of players that you’re always competing against. That’s a win-win.”
Wilson says she takes great pride in being able to represent her country on the world stage for the first time, but appreciates just being able to go out and play with such a talented crew of players, who were her competition during the WNBA season.
“My favorite part is definitely getting to know these girls off the court. I mean, you see them in the WNBA all the time and you get to play against them, but to just hang around them and cheer on the bench with them is a lot of fun,” the Las Vegas Aces star said.
Wilson’s Rookie of the Year campaign, which stacks up among the best rookie seasons in WNBA history, came as no surprise to Staley.
“Aja’s been constantly getting better each and every year. She challenges herself night in and night out to be the best A’ja Wilson she can be. Obviously playing on a WNBA level, the floor just opened up for her,” said Staley. “I think she went to a perfect franchise for her, a perfect coach in Bill Laimbeer that allowed her to grow through giving her the ball. She doesn’t have to figure things out when the ball is in her hands, she just has to put the ball in the hole and that’s what he wants her to do. That’s pretty easy for her.”
Wilson will hope to build on that success in the latest challenge of her career while rekindling her basketball relationship with Staley. They’ve already brought home an NCAA title; now they have their sights set on gold for the USA.