A’ja Wilson already has a statue. Now she needs a ring.


LAS VEGAS — Roscoe Wilson Jr. goes to see his daughter at least once per week.

There’s no conversation — Roscoe just hangs out and watches her for 15 or 20 minutes, maybe takes a few pictures. Sometimes he doesn’t even get out of the car.

Mostly, Roscoe gazes up at A’ja, who’s standing there on one foot, more than 11 feet tall, bronzed from head to toe, basketball in hand, ponytail streaming behind her. The statue of the two-time WNBA MVP was installed on the campus of the University of South Carolina in 2021, and Roscoe can’t stay away.

I don’t want to sound like I’m crazy, but hey, you know,” Roscoe said with a laugh.

Eva Wilson essentially rolls her eyes at her husband’s routine. He’ll even make excuses for why he wound up outside Colonial Life Arena, where the Gamecocks play their home games. The statue is the third on the Columbia campus to represent a specific individual and is the first of a woman.

“ ‘Oh, I just happened to be [over there]’ — you didn’t happen to be nowhere,” Eva said, mimicking their conversations. “You ain’t happen to be by the statue. I’m like, ‘Roscoe, really?’ It would not surprise me, to be honest, if Roscoe [did] go every day.

“If somebody said, ‘Eva, I work at the Colonial Life Arena and I see your husband every day,’ it wouldn’t surprise me. And I work downtown — what, two miles from it — and I don’t.”

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They were on the court next to the real A’ja Wilson on Sunday, beaming with pride, as she received her second MVP trophy from Commissioner Cathy Engelbert before the start of the WNBA Finals. She has led the Aces to the championship series for the second time since the franchise moved to Sin City in 2018. The team drafted Wilson with the No. 1 pick that year, has advanced to the semifinals in four straight playoffs — losing, 3-0, to the Seattle Storm in the 2020 Finals — and won a franchise-record 26 games this season. The Aces and Connecticut Sun began their best-of-five series Sunday; Las Vegas took a 1-0 lead with a 67-64 victory at home.

Wilson, who is named after a Steely Dan song, also won her first defensive player of the year award this season. She averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks and shot 50.1 percent from the field while extending her offensive weaponry beyond the three-point line for the first time in her career. In the Game 1 victory, she set the tone early and finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two steals.

Wilson made sure to mention her parents when talking about winning the award, something she said she wasn’t gunning for despite it being a two-woman race between her and Seattle forward Breanna Stewart. She called them before the announcement and received screams in response.

These moments have been decades in the making: Her parents represent a dichotomy of her growth as a person. Roscoe is a former professional basketball player who spearheaded her development on the court. Eva handles things off the court in a stern yet loving manner. She runs her daughter’s Burnt Wax candle company and tries to keep her from buying too many handbags — an interest passed down from Eva — as she teaches the 26-year-old about finances. The lecture from Eva may not have worked so well: Wilson walked into the Game 1 postgame news conference with a new Louis Vuitton bag.

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“It was just a feeling that just never gets old,” Wilson said of making the call to her parents. “I’m so glad that they’re able to enjoy this moment with me . . . because without them there is no me — without them taking those sacrifices and driving me to those AAU games where I played zero minutes. It’s big.”

The Wilsons wouldn’t even wash that AAU jersey — No. 22 on the Palmetto 76ers — when their daughter got home. At first, she wasn’t playing enough to get it dirty. They considered whether the financial commitment was worth it. Eva joked that A’ja was content with being a cheerleader for her teammates.

“[At] 11 or 12 years old, A’ja was sorry at basketball,” Roscoe said. “I mean, absolutely sorry. I don’t have a problem saying it.”

Sometimes she would come home in tears after workouts with Roscoe. They would do an extra half-hour of practice before and after games. Dad would put her through the Mikan Drill — a developmental technique for post players — as she wore a 20-pound vest. Roscoe always emphasized fundamentals and conditioning, which he picked up playing overseas, and those drills were part of the process. The sessions often would end with A’ja coming into the house and running to Eva to complain about Roscoe screaming at her during the workout. His response: “Deal with it.”

Eva understood what was happening when the two would walk in and not speak to each other.

“I’m like, ‘Okay, all right, y’all, come on now,’ ” Eva said. “But it was what it was, though. Nobody speaking. Nobody talking.

“My side always was: ‘Okay, A’ja, let’s put things into perspective. He’s only guiding you because he’s been there, done that. He’s not riding you because he just wants to ride your back. He’s riding you because he wants you to be successful. And if this is something that you truly, truly, truly want to do, then you’re going to have to listen.’ ”

Roscoe added: “I didn’t feel bad about it. Well, I felt bad sometimes because she really would get frustrated.”

Fifteen years later, Wilson is one of the best basketball players on the planet. She has some of the best footwork in the WNBA and a knack for attacking the glass with a quick second jump. In three consecutive wins to beat the Storm in the semifinals, Wilson averaged 30.0 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent. She doesn’t get sped up despite being swarmed by extra defenders, and she played all but four minutes during the four games against the Storm.

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Roscoe remembered his daughter, as a middle-schooler, saying she wanted to be the best player in the country and win a high school championship, a college championship and an Olympic gold medal. She has accomplished all of those — and a WNBA title is the only thing missing.

Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said Wilson is more decisive than ever and has gotten better in every area. Lobo added that she has the perfect demeanor and has a feel for when to be demanding with teammates.

Fellow ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson noted Wilson has taken “huge jumps” in her leadership and being vocal with teammates. She said Jackie Young, winner of the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award, was empowered by Wilson to be confident and aggressive. Wilson grabbed control of the huddle in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and had choice words that teammate Chelsea Gray called “the right thing in the right moment.”

Roscoe’s father was a minister and his mother was a missionary, so A’ja was raised in the church and faith remains a large part of their family. His trips to campus to stare at a statue of his daughter have significance. He remembers the days when African Americans weren’t allowed to play at South Carolina as Jim Crow laws ruled the South. Eva’s mother, Hattie Rakes, was a single mother of four working multiple jobs; Rakes grew up four blocks from where that statue stands and was forbidden from stepping foot on the grounds. She would have to walk completely around campus to get to the other side. Decades later, her granddaughter is immortalized there.

“He’s like, ‘I talked to you today; you didn’t say much,’ ” Wilson said of her dad and the statue. “I love that. That’s my biggest thing about the statue is having my parents enjoy it. It ain’t even about me. It’s just, I can only imagine how big they smile. For them to be able to drive by that on the way to work is so big to me.”

Eva added: “That’s progress. For A’ja and for our family, that is just a testimony to what can happen.”



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