Less than a year ago, A’ja Wilson moved from her home state of South Carolina to the desert lands of Nevada to begin her professional basketball career. Since then, she’s allowed nothing to deter her from rising to the top. Her journey has not been without struggle, but Wilson has learned to celebrate her successes along the way and use her experiences (both good and bad) to shape the future.
Respecting the Past
Although twenty-two-year-old Wilson is a new name in the basketball biz, she’s already rubbing elbows with elite basketball icons, broadcasting college games on television, and judging professional dunk contests. However, there was a time when she could barely get on the court to log any minutes at all.
“When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was absolutely horrible at basketball,” Wilson said. “My dad was the assistant coach, and I still didn’t get in.”
Though times have changed, Wilson remains grateful for those moments that shaped her into the athlete she is now. She fondly remembers the first time she made it off the bench with only 20 seconds left in the game.
“That was my defining moment,” Wilson said. “From that experience I really wanted to get more time on the court with my teammates. It motivated me to work hard and focus on my craft, and it’s helped me become the player I am today.”
But while her road to stardom was influenced by key moments on the court, her path to leadership was influenced by a specific person. Without hesitation, Wilson will tell you that her biggest role model and shero was her grandma.
“She was so special to me,” Wilson said. “And the beautiful thing is she never watched me play basketball, but she always had a listening ear and led me in the right direction. I hope I’m half the woman she was.”
Acknowledging the Present
Wilson’s college career with South Carolina ended in 2018 after making it to the quarter finals of the national basketball tournament. Although it ended sooner than she would have liked, it didn’t hinder her move to the pros. She was the first overall draft pick in 2018 and was selected by the newly formed Las Vegas team.
Less than 10 games into the 2018 season, Wilson set a record with 35 points and over 10 rebounds in a single game (only the second rookie in league history to do so). By the end of the season, Wilson led her team in points, rebounds, and blocks making her an obvious contender to win Rookie of the Year, which she did. But despite the addition of the young superstar, the team finished in ninth, one spot short of the playoffs.
During that inaugural year, the Las Vegas team faced challenges adjusting to a new coach and a new city, but Wilson looks forward to the potential of the upcoming season.
“We know each other now,” Wilson said. “We know how each of us plays, and we can feed off each other, so I’m excited to see our chemistry in the game.”
Embracing the Future
Wilson’s past has impacted who she is today, but those are only the early chapters of her story. There are records to be broken and glass ceilings to shatter, and Wilson is prepared to forge her own way.
“I think mentally I’ve changed the way I approach certain things in life, not just on the court, but off the court as well,” Wilson said.
She’s looking forward to her future playing professional basketball and seizing opportunities to advocate for female empowerment.
“I didn’t understand the voice I had until I got to the professional league, and I saw how people listened,” Wilson said. “So, I’m not going to just sit here. I’m going to speak on empowering women because we deserve a change. There has to be a change.”
Wilson also looks forward to seeing her non-profit organization, the A’ja Wilson Foundation, grow and make a difference in the lives of kids struggling with learning disabilities and bullying.
“I was diagnosed with dyslexia in high school, and I absolutely hated it,” Wilson said. “It took a long time for me to come to terms with it. Once I found the resources, they really helped me overcome the fact that I had a learning disability. So, I wanted to start the A’ja Wilson Foundation to ensure schools have those resources.”
The foundation is still young, but, working with her parents, Wilson is excited to be raising money and dreaming of the impact it’ll have down the road.
Wilson understands that the moments and mentors of her past have helped bring her to where she is now and that, by investing in the lives of the next generation, she can pass on the torch.
“The reason I play, and the reason I am who I am is because I want young kids, both boys and girls, to look up to me and say, ‘Okay, she did it the right way. She succeeded, and it can be done,’” Wilson said.
Wilson has only begun writing her story and making a difference in the world around her. And as she continues to be a leader, on and off the court, you won’t be able to ignore this superstar.
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