By now, everyone knows who A’ja Wilson is.
The three-time All-American in women’s basketball for South Carolina is a favorite to win several Player of the Year honors as her highly decorated Gamecock career comes to a close in the next couple of months. She’s made a mark in the college game that will be long-lasting in the state of South Carolina and beyond.
But for a moment on Friday night, none of that mattered. Wilson returned to her roots at Heathwood Hall to be honored by having her No. 22 jersey retired along with former Highlander stars Brionna Dickerson and Corey Littlejohn.
It’s an honor in which Wilson takes great pride. She believes she wouldn’t be where she is today without the lessons she learned when she was a five-time SCISA All-State Selection (2009-20014).
“This is amazing. The last big moment in this gym was me committing, so to come back and see everyone around is a great feeling for me,” Wilson said as she sat on a scooter that’s helping protect an ankle injury she suffered against Auburn on Thursday. “I’m surprised I didn’t cry. To have your number retired is an honor at a great place like Heathwood. I’m excited, I’m bubbly. There’s a lot of feelings going on.”
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was on hand, along with several of Wilson’s current and former teammates.
They were able to witness the love and sense of pride that Heathwood Hall has for Wilson.
Her career accolades while at Heathwood Hall speak for themselves. In five seasons, Wilson scored 2,943 points and grabbed 1,658 rebounds. She trails only Dickerson, a former South Carolina standout herself, in career points. Dickerson tallied 3,351 points from 2000-2005.
In 2014, Wilson was tabbed the WBCA, Naismith and Parade Magazine Player of the Year when she was rated as the No. 1 recruit in the country. That season, the 6-foot-5 phenom averaged 34.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.0 blocks while shooting 57 percent from the field. More important to Wilson, though, was that she guided the Highlanders to the SCISA state championship for just the third time in program history.
It avenged a loss in the title game the year before.
“The state championship was definitely one of the biggest things that I did here that I appreciate a lot,” Wilson said. “I loved seeing my old teammates here mixed with my current teammates. I just love this feeling.”
“I go from getting my 2,000th point (at USC) last night to now getting my jersey retired. It’s definitely been a blessing. It’s been a world of emotions that I’m all taking in.”
The daughter of Eva and Roscoe Wilson Jr. is still highly respected around campus and the Heathwood community. John O’Cain coached Wilson from the time she was in eighth grade, so he knew before Friday night what Wilson meant to everyone from an up-close perspective.
“It brought back wonderful memories. It’s a great honor she had,” O’Cain said. “She’s the face of Heathwood for the past many years and she’s the face of women’s college basketball. I think the next 10 years she will be the face of professional basketball.”