The cross-country journey, estimated at 14 hours, was exhausting, which is why A’ja Wilson felt no need to explain why she slept until nearly noon on Tuesday.
The jet lag and the normal aches from playing nine basketball games in 11 days were worth it.
“When I came out of the final game, coach (Katie) Meier hugged me and said, ‘Great minutes, great minutes,’ ” Wilson said Tuesday. “After that hug, I just felt incredible, that I was going to be a gold medal winner. That’s something I’ve dreamed of, and being 16, that’s just amazing.”
Wilson, a rising senior at Heathwood Hall and the nation’s No. 1 recruit for the next cycle, had that gold medal in her bag as she came off the plane.
Taking the bait for a second when father Roscoe Wilson jokingly asked what time they were going to work out on Tuesday, Wilson got home around 9 p.m. on Monday, grabbed a quick bite and went to visit her grandmother. By the time she got back home, her bed was calling louder than the various recruiting services that have trumpeted her name for the past two years.
“I am very jet-lagged,” she said. “Seemed like we were traveling back in time. I can’t sleep very well on planes.”
Now, she can recover, reflect and prepare for the next nine months. Wilson turns 17 on Aug. 8, starts her senior year of high school on Aug. 21 and begins her senior season in November. From there until May, she’ll try to balance being the same teammate who has scored 2,170 career points and won back-to-back SCISA Player of the Year awards, being a normal teenager and being one of the nation’s most coveted recruits.
Naturally, the latter is what many will want to know about every day during the nine months, but Wilson has a quick answer — undecided.
“I’m going to wait until May to commit,” Wilson said. “July and June were supposed to be my months, and being on Team USA kind of pushed everything back from me. I’ll think about my visits later. I have no favorites.”
Wilson was one of six high school players on Team USA’s U-19 entry in the FIBA World Championships, and one of three who hasn’t decided where they will attend college. Combining with a who’s who of college talent — such as tournament MVP Breanna Stewart, who had two of her Connecticut teammates on the roster with her — Team USA went 9-0 in international competition and won its fifth consecutive gold medal.
Wilson was third on the team with 10.9 points per game, led the team with a average of 7.9 rebounds and also was first with 15 blocked shots. She had nine steals through the tournament while averaging 16.6 minutes per game.
The team struggled once, in a 69-63 win against France just before the medal round.
“We had a lead, but we kind of laid back, and they came back and almost won,” Wilson said. “We knew we couldn’t let that happen again.”
Meeting France again in the gold medal game, Meier and her staff adjusted. Taking advantage of Wilson’s 6-foot-4 frame, which matched Stewart’s, Team USA threw those two and 6-6 Candice Agee at France’s inside attack. The result — a 21.7 field-goal percentage and 28 points for France.
“Those teams weren’t that bad, it’s just that the USA was so good,” Roscoe Wilson said. “Coach Meier, coach (Nikki) Caldwell and coach (Kelly) Graves, and the rest of the support staff, they handled this so professionally. I was just so impressed by the whole thing.”
His daughter agreed.
“I thought they were pretty good,” A’ja Wilson said. “We were just a lot better. From training camp, we worked so hard, everything was just hard, hard, hard. When the games came, it wasn’t easy, but we just played our own game.”
Pleased with her play during the tournament, and proud to be able to see a gold medal gleaming from her wall, Wilson will relax for the next few days, perhaps catch a couple of S.C. Pro Am games, then get ready for school. She won’t pick up a basketball for a while — maybe as long as two or three days.
The next nine months don’t frighten or put any pressure on her because she’s been prepared for it. She plans to approach it with the same system as before — level-headed, calm, not getting too excited one day, because the next day could be better.
“I’m just going to catch up with my teammates and friends and family, and relax,” she said. “Get away from the gym, just relax. I’m just going to take it piece-by-piece, month-by-month.”