WNBA “More Than Undefeated” CampaignThe four part series concludes with Aya Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces.
“What happens in Sin City stays in Sin CityAya Wilson said when asked what she had to say to the Aces fans in the 2018 WNBA draft after taking first overall. Surely a small moment in Wilson’s brilliant career, but revealing nonetheless.
“Everything Aja says is ignored,” Wilson laughs.
“My agent will tell you. She probably cringes every time I say something like, “What is she going to say?” But no, nothing is really planned, I go with the flow and just like to have fun.”
Wilson shoots from the hip, but with world-class accuracy. She is scriptless and completely consistent in who she is on and off the court.
“Whether I like it or like it, I will be myself no matter what.”
The Aces finished in first place overall and had the best season in franchise history through 2022. This team has longevity; Darika Hamby has been with the organization since she was still in San Antonio. Kelsey Plum, Wilson, and Jackie Young were selected by the Aces first overall over a three-year period. Chelsea Gray came to Vegas two seasons ago.
At the end of the regular season, the starting five set the record for the most minutes played by a five-player lineup in a single season.
Wilson believes she has taken a significant step forward this year as a leader. This played a key role in further rallying the young but experienced group.
“You look at everyone (on the team) and they bring different things and I feel like I’m starting to become the emotional leader of it all and realize that I play a big role in how we think about it when we approach games. It’s hard. There is a difference between a leader and a boss. I never wanted to be the boss. I’ve always wanted to be someone my teammates can count on and the anchor of the franchise,” says Wilson.
Wilson, who just turned 26 in early August, is now in her fifth year in the WNBA and equally feels like she’s been a franchise anchor for a decade, with her rookie year just past. To sum up what Wilson has already done, it is staggering. Named Rookie of the Year, All-Star Game every season (No All-Star Game played in 2020 due to COVID-19), Named to All-WNBA teams twice (and banned this season), Multiple selection to All Defensive Teams and 2020 league MVP.
She also has a good chance of becoming this season’s MVP after expanding her game even further. Her defense improved and she became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. She incorporated more long-range shots into the new offense to better utilize her skills, a significant portion of the league’s best offense, and the second most effective offense in WNBA history according to her hoop statistics.
Wilson is indifferent to praise; what happens is what happens, she can’t control the vote and how others look at her game, but she can control how she plays and influences victory. She considers herself the biggest rival.
“I don’t really pay attention to outside noise or who is in front of me because I feel like God has fully prepared me to be who I am and I feel like He has given me enough to be Who can I be. I wrestle with myself at the end of the day. I focus on myself; how can i be a better teammate? Best person? I just let the rest work out. I can’t really pay attention to praise, but at the same time, I don’t take for granted how happy I am,” says Wilson.
She loves to be true to herself and says she always tells others to do the same. What is the point if you are not authentic in who you really are? It will always bring the same energy as a person.
“It took me a minute to figure it out, and that doesn’t mean you have to figure out who you are right this minute; sometimes it takes time. Just be consistent about it.”
She is transparent about who she is, yet she is protective of her peace. If you haven’t already, you should read her article at Tribune of players.
While Wilson mostly has praise out of sight and out of mind, it’s wild to speculate on where she already stands as a player in the league and league history as she’s only now entering her prime. She is on her way to becoming one of the greatest female athletes of all time and has already established herself as such.
The legacy is important to her, and the further creation of her own is in the foreground. She believes in “different paths to greatness” and finds her path based on team play. She wants to win a title with the Aces and for them most of all in basketball.
“It’s all about winning. When you do this, people cannot take anything from you. They can’t take away this championship. They can’t take this MVP away. They can’t take anything away if you win and fit into the history books forever. I think it’s a show of greatness and heritage,” says Wilson.
Every day she wakes up with a desire to compete and with the thought: “How can we win today?” and enjoys it. She credits her parents for this drive and determination, instilled in her at a young age and developed as she got older. They made huge sacrifices to ensure that she grew up in South Carolina and that she had the opportunities she had throughout her life.
“Giving to them and not relaxing is so important to me. I have to give credit to my family.”
Wilson hates to lose, and losing in life becomes “hot,” she says, laughing.
She had a hard time with last year’s postseason loss to the Mercury, but she also took it calmly and learned from a difficult series.
The Aces had a 2–5 skid from late June until the All-Star break. They went 12-3 including the final of the Commissioner’s Cup to close out the season and get back in shape. Wilson mentioned how important the break would be for the team when we talked in Chicago.
That early playoff exit last year was key in helping the team weather adversity and stay calm, Wilson says. I would say that the run at the end of the season after the All-Star break was more impressive than their hot start. The ability to adapt and find your way to victory again is indicative of a different mindset and that additional experience in 2022.
“I think our backbone understood how painful the loss was last year; we didn’t want that feeling anymore,” Wilson says.
“We are trying to do everything we can to make sure we are not in this position. It all starts with people sacrificing each other, realizing how far we’ve come, but knowing we still have a long way to go.”
Still, the long haul is a daunting proposition from a team that has already reached the finals with Wilson at the helm. The Aces faced the Seattle Storm in the 2020 Finals, and this Storm team is undeniably different; they have a similar but more experienced core and have a lot of different players on the roster. It seems like it was much earlier than just two seasons ago.
However, this Aces team is almost unrecognizable. Kelsey Plum missed out on the Bubble with an injury and has grown into a star over the past few seasons. Jackie Young is probably the most progressive player and her rebuilt jumper changed the playoff dynamics for that team. Wilson was MVP then, but since then her game has only improved in almost every aspect.
Wilson is not thinking about a 2020 series. It’s all about the here and now. You don’t strengthen your legacy by reliving the past. She doesn’t tense up because of the competition, but instead sees it as an opportunity.
“Entering (in the second round) is like a breath of fresh air for me. We come with the understanding that we really need to focus on ourselves, on what we do, and on the little things that matter. Everything matters here.”
Regardless of what happens in the semi-finals, Wilson deserves flowers and then several for a stellar season and an outstanding start to his professional career.
Aya Wilson is more than unbeatable with her approach and mindset. The way she sincerely attacks life and basketball, it’s easy to see why she’s become so successful. She is not afraid of the moment; she lives for him and in him.
She sees no obstacles. She sees opportunities and relishes the opportunity to prove herself, move her team forward and build her legacy step by step.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column about WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.