The Daily Gamecock

Former Gamecock basketball star A'ja Wilson reflects on second career WNBA MVP

<p>FILE—Sophomore forward A'ja Wilson during a game in 2016, Wilson, a star of the women's basketball team averaged a team-high 16.4 points per game.</p>
FILE—Sophomore forward A'ja Wilson during a game in 2016, Wilson, a star of the women's basketball team averaged a team-high 16.4 points per game.

After a 97-92 series-clinching victory on the road against the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, forward A'ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces met for their usual postgame talk with head coach Becky Hammon. This talk was different, however. Not only did the Aces secure a spot in the WNBA Finals, but Hammon ended the talk by announcing to the team that Wilson was going to be named WNBA MVP. 

“Becky finishes it off saying that she's known since Saturday that I won the award, and I instantly just kind of clutched my knees,” Wilson said. “Words can’t describe things that were going through my mind or how I felt.”

The league officially announced Wilson as the most valuable player for the 2022 season on Wednesday, marking her second time winning the award. 

Wilson won her first MVP in 2020, an early highlight in her successful young career, which has also included winning the 2017 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship while at South Carolina and WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2018. Wilson added to her trophy case last week, as well, when she was named 2022 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. Out of all of her career achievements, Wilson said this one was one of the best.

“This is definitely, probably top three, for sure,” Wilson said. “I just was honestly, did not imagine this, so it is very, it's a lot of excitement.”

When Wilson called her parents Tuesday after the game to tell them the news, she was met with screams of joy and excitement.

“They just instantly started screaming like they did the first time, and it was just a feeling that just never gets old,” Wilson said. “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 play zero minutes, it's big.”

Wilson said she told her teammates right after she found out and expressed how she couldn’t have won the award without the support of the entire roster. 

The Aces are loaded with talent, tying the league lead in all-stars this season with four. Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum finished third in MVP voting, and guard Jackie Young won the Most Improved Player Award. This strong roster led by Wilson and Plum powered Las Vegas to a tie for the best record in the WNBA this season.

“It's all about sacrifice, it really is,” Wilson said. “We give up so much for each other and I think you see it on the court, but there's some things that you don't see in that locker room. There's days that it could be anybody's night, we are okay with it because we know that we're fully capable of doing that, and I think it's something special.”

Wilson’s MVP makes her the seventh player to win the award on multiple occasions, joining Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Elena Delle Donne and Candace Parker. Wilson said just being in the same conversation as these basketball legends is an honor.

“Hopefully I can add a couple more, of course, but just to be right there and so young and understanding and knowing that this is just one footprint in the league that I'm trying to leave,” Wilson said.

Even with all of her accolades, Wilson said she is not satisfied with her career and strives to achieve more because if she’s not doing it, someone else is.

I want to be down as one of the greats, not just frequently shown in record books,” Wilson said. “Everything motivates me. Knowing that I'm like 'let's go get another one, why not, let's keep going, let's keep doing it' because someone else will.”

Wilson and the Aces will now prepare for their second WNBA Finals appearance in the last three seasons. After losing the 2020 championship in the bubble at IMG Academy, Wilson and the team are seeking their first WNBA title.

“I think this year, we've been there before, we felt how it felt, and it wasn't a good feeling. And it's like, we just worked so hard to get to this point, and I just, it's just a different feel, a different vibe in our locker room,” Wilson said. 

Game one of the 2022 WNBA Finals will tip off Sunday at 3 p.m. on ABC.