NEW YORK — A’ja Wilson was selected No. 1 in the 2018 WNBA Draft by the Las Vegas Aces because of her 6’5 size, her ability to finish shots through contact, and her prowess grabbing boards. But her infectious personality and strong desire to better the game of women’s basketball helped, too.
When asked what she had to had to say new fans in Las Vegas Wilson said live in a sarcastically overacted tone on ESPN2, “Whatever happens in Sin City, stays in Sin City.”
Her family could only bury their heads in their hands.
That’s just Wilson being Wilson in any given moment, whether on stage during the biggest night of her life or somewhere else. That’s the personality a team set to begin its first season in a city like Las Vegas needs.
The San Antonio Stars’ ownership sold the team last year after it spent 15 years in the city. Following three straight years with the league’s worst record, it was announced they’d head to Las Vegas. When the ball tips on May 20, it’ll be a fresh beginning not only for Wilson, but for the team’s new head coach Bill Laimbeer, and all of her teammates.
Wilson is set to become the face of a completely new franchise with no pre-existing fanbase. That’s hard enough before factoring in the knocks female athletes live through every day in person, and often more intensely, online.
She’s up for the challenge.
“I’m excited,” Wilson told reporters in the hours after she was selected as the No. 1 overall pick. “I love that people are coming together for women’s basketball.”
The stage is never too big for Wilson to be herself — she referred to herself as “metal mouth” to reporters at the draft when she flashed the white brackets of her braces. But also, as a member of one few draft classes that grew up with a mainstream WNBA, she knows how important her celebrity is for the young girls who will follow.
“I use my platform to really reach out and touch young girls,” Wilson, who has over 70,000 followers on Instagram after draft night, says. “Let them know they can get the job done. Have fun with it. Enjoy it. This is something we all love and I hope I can make somebody smile on the court or off of it. That’s my main goal.”
She’s done a whole lot of both already. She swept every Player of the Year award in college basketball this season, and though she came short in this year’s run, she won a National Championship for the South Carolina Gamecocks the year before. Not bad.
Now, alongside 2017 No. 1 pick, Kelsey Plum, she’ll be tasked to flash those talents in front of an audience she admits might not know who she is. That change of pace isn’t for everyone, but Wilson isn’t everyone.
“It’s time to show people that women’s basketball is the real deal,” Wilson said. “We get down and it’s a lot of fun.”
“But,” she says as she gets back into the overdramatic tone again, “you really won’t know until you get to Las Vegas ... and I can’t tell you what because it stays in Vegas.”