A’ja Wilson reunites with ‘second mom’ Dawn Staley on Team USA

It was June 26. Two weeks before the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team would convene in Las Vegas to prepare for the Tokyo Games. A’ja Wilson sent Dawn Staley a text message.

“If we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace,” she wrote, quoting a verse from the Bible — Hebrews 12:11. “Literally thinking about how grateful I am that you taught me discipline in college.”

For it was that discipline that helped Wilson become a national champion at South Carolina. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft. The 2020 WNBA MVP.

An Olympian.

“She constantly lifts me up,” Wilson said. “She’s the reason why I am who I am.”

Wilson and Staley are rekindling a component of their relationship through USA Basketball. The one where Wilson is a basketball player and Staley her coach — albeit this time with Team USA instead of South Carolina. The Aces star is making her Olympic debut as the starting power forward, and Staley is serving as head coach after winning three gold medals as a player and two as an assistant coach.

The Americans will open pool play July 27 against Nigeria.

The rest of their relationship extends well beyond the confines of the basketball court — and is bound by more than a decade of trust, vulnerability and humility.

In Staley, Wilson has a “second mom” she can always turn to. “She’ll be the godmother of my children,” Wilson says. And through Wilson, Staley has maximized her impact as a mentor, guiding her on and off the court from afar as she navigates the perils of her professional career.

“She gave me realness,” Staley said. “She’s just super authentic, and she gave me a great example of what I want our players to be in my life.”

Building a bond

Their connection was first forged at a youth basketball camp on the campus of South Carolina, where Wilson now has a statue commemorating her legacy.

And where she was once relegated to a secondary gym among the other middling players.

She was still finding her footing as a player, having resisted the sport for much of her childhood. But Staley was intrigued by her potential and offered an introduction at the conclusion of camp when Wilson received her participation certificate.

“She was like, ‘A’ja Wilson. OK, I’m going to remember this name,” Wilson said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, whatever.’”

But Staley stayed true to her word and spent the ensuing years recruiting Wilson while transforming South Carolina from a Southeastern Conference cellar dweller into a national powerhouse.

Wilson didn’t play for the most prominent club program, but Staley would always find a courtside seat for her games as she blossomed into the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. She would make two weekly phone calls to the Wilson household in an effort to learn about the person instead of the…

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