A’ja Wilson’s parents are in for the WNBA Finals

LAS VEGAS — Roscoe Wilson Jr. visits his daughter at least once a week.

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

Above all, Roscoe looks at A’ja, who stands there on one foot, over 11 feet tall, tanned from head to toe, basketball in hand, ponytail flowing behind her. The statue of the WNBA’s two-time MVP was installed on the University of South Carolina campus in 2021, and Roscoe can’t stay away.

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

Eva Wilson basically rolls her eyes at her husband’s routine. He will even find excuses to explain why he ended up in front of the Colonial Life Arena, where the Gamecocks play their home games. The statue is the third on the Columbia campus to depict a specific individual and is the first of a woman.

“‘Oh, I happened to be [over there]’ – you were nowhere,’ Eva said, mimicking their conversations. You are not near the statue. I’m like, ‘Roscoe, really?’ It wouldn’t surprise me, to be honest, if Roscoe [did] go every day.

“If someone said, ‘Eva, I work at Colonial Life Arena and I see your husband every day,’ that wouldn’t surprise me. And I work downtown – what, two miles away – and I do not do it.

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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 ahead of the start of the WNBA Finals. She 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, advanced to the running backs -finals in four straight playoffs – losing, 3-0, to the Seattle Storm in the 2020 Finals – and has won a franchise-record 26 games this season. The Aces and Connecticut Sun started their best-of-five series on Sunday; Las Vegas took a 1-0 lead with a 67-64 win at home.

Wilson, 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% from the field while extending her offensive weaponry beyond the three-point line for the first time in his career. In the Game 1 win, 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 aiming for despite it being a two-man race between her and the striker of Seattle Breanna Stewart. She called them before the announcement and received shouts in response.

These moments have been in the making for decades: her parents represent a dichotomy of her growth as a person. Roscoe is a former professional basketball player who led her development on the court. Eva handles things off the pitch in a stern but loving way. She runs her daughter’s Burnt Wax candle business and tries to keep her from buying too many handbags – an interest passed on by Eva – as she teaches the 26-year-old about finance. Eva’s conference may not have gone so well: Wilson walked into the post-game opener press conference with a new Louis Vuitton bag.

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“It was just a feeling that never gets old,” Wilson said after calling her parents. “I’m so happy that they can enjoy this moment with me. . . because without them there is no me – without them making those sacrifices and getting me to those AAU games where I didn’t play a minute. It’s big.”

The Wilsons weren’t even washing that AAU jersey — No. 22 on the Palmetto 76ers — when their daughter came home. At first, she didn’t play enough to get him dirty. They wondered if the financial commitment was worth it. Eva joked that A’ja was content to be a cheerleader for her teammates.

“[At] 11 or 12, A’ja was sorry in basketball,” Roscoe said. “I mean, absolutely sorry. I have no problem saying that.

Sometimes she would come home in tears after practice sessions with Roscoe. They did an extra half hour of training before and after games. Dad was putting her through the Mikan Drill – a developmental technique for post players – while she was wearing a 20-pound vest. Roscoe always focused on fundamentals and conditioning, which he learned playing overseas, and those drills were part of the process. The sessions often ended with A’ja entering the house and running to Eva to complain that Roscoe was yelling at her during practice. His response: “Deal with it.”

Eva understood what was happening when the two walked in and didn’t talk to each other.

“I’m like, ‘Ok, okay, y’all, come on now,'” Eva said. “But it was what it was, however. No one is speaking. No one is speaking.

“My side has always been, ‘Okay, A’ja, let’s put it in perspective. He only guides you because he’s been there, does that. He doesn’t ride you because he just wants to ride on your back. He rides you because he wants you to succeed. And if it’s something you really, really, really 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 was really 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 straight wins to beat the Storm in the semifinals, Wilson averaged 30.0 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting 64.2%. She’s not picking up speed despite being swarmed by extra defenders, and she’s played all but four minutes in all four games against the Storm.

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Roscoe recalled her daughter, when she was a middle school student, 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 accomplished all of that – 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 improved in all areas. Lobo added that she had the perfect demeanor and knew when to be demanding of her teammates.

ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson noted that Wilson has made “huge leaps” in his leadership and speaking out with his teammates. She said WNBA Most Improved Player award winner Jackie Young was empowered by Wilson to be confident and aggressive. Wilson took control of the huddle in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and had choice words that teammate Chelsea Gray called “the right thing at the right time.”

Roscoe’s father was a minister and her mother was a missionary, so A’ja was raised in the church and the faith remains a big part of their family. His trips to campus to gaze at a statue of his daughter have significance. He remembers when African Americans weren’t allowed to gamble in South Carolina when 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 this statue stands and was forbidden from walking on the grounds. She would have to go all the way around campus to get to the other side. Decades later, his granddaughter is immortalized there.

“He’s like, ‘I talked to you today; you didn’t say much,” Wilson said of his father and the statue. “I love it. That’s my biggest thing about the statue is that my parents enjoy it. It’s not even about me. It’s just, I can only imagine at how much they smile. For them, being able to go through this on the way to work is so important to me.

Eva added: “This is progress. For A’ja and for our family, this is just a testament to what can happen.

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