South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner would support erecting a statue of former women’s basketball star A'ja Wilson, but there will be red tape to navigate before that can happen, he told The State this week.
“I don’t know that you would get anybody to say they’re against A’ja having a statue,” Tanner said. “Maybe so, but I would anticipate that everybody thinks that’s a great idea. That possibility certainly does exist, but there is proper procedure we will have to go through.”
What will be coming sooner than a statue is another form of recognition for standout Gamecocks of the past.
“I think we’re years behind in retiring jerseys,” Tanner said.
In that spirit, he has been having conversations with his senior staff in the past two months about which athletes across all sports should have their jerseys retired, and he expects several athletes to be honored that way in the coming academic year.
“I’m a big advocate of retiring jerseys,” said Tanner, whose own No. 1 jersey has been retired by the USC baseball team he led to back-to-back national titles.
South Carolina athletics department policy was changed in 2013 to distinguish between retiring jerseys and retiring numbers. Four former members of the USC football team (George Rogers, No. 38; Sterling Sharpe, No. 2; Steve Wadiak, No. 37, and Mike Johnson, No. 56), five former members of the men's basketball team (Grady Wallace, No. 42; John Roche, No. 11; Kevin Joyce, No. 43; Alex English, No. 22, and B.J. McKie, No. 3) and three former members of the women's basketball team (Sheila Foster, No. 53; Shannon Johnson, No. 14, and Martha Parker, No. 13) have had their numbers retired, but the athletics department has since changed its rules so that players can be recognized without taking their numbers out of circulation. There is a five-year waiting period for retiring a USC jersey that begins at the end of the player’s final season. The earliest Wilson’s jersey can be retired is spring 2023.
“Those discussions have been occurring in the last month with our senior staff, and I think that you’re going to see more jerseys being retired in the next academic year,” Tanner said.
As for a statue of Wilson, that could take longer, Tanner indicated. The possibility has been raised twice in the past month, first by the only athlete who currently has a statue on campus, Heisman Trophy winning running back Rogers, who endorsed the idea of Wilson joining him in bronze, and then by women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley.
“We need an A’ja Wilson statue right outside of here,” Staley told a crowd gathered this week outside Colonial Life Arena to honor Wilson.
Wilson led the Gamecocks to their first national championship in women's basketball in the 2016-2017 season and this past season averaged 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds on the way to earning every national player of the year award handed out in the postseason, along with SEC player of the year and SEC defensive player of the year.
Staley pledged $100,000 of her own money toward funding the project. While funding will be part of the issue, there are other hurdles to cross, Tanner said. Any statue on campus has to be approved by the board of trustees building and grounds committee and then by the full board.
“I would tell you that it’s a possibility that certainly exists,” he said. “There are formal channels to go through and board of trustees approval to go through. There are approvals that have to be vetted out, but I think the possibility does exist.”
Retired Numbers in USC sports history
Sterling Sharpe – No. 2
Steve Wadiak – No. 37
George Rogers – No. 38
Mike Johnson – No. 56
Alex English – No. 22
Kevin Joyce – No. 43
B.J. McKie – No. 3
John Roche – No. 11
Grady Wallace – No. 42
Sheila Foster – No. 53
Shannon Johnson – No. 14
Martha Parker – No. 13
Retired Jerseys in USC history
Ray Tanner – No. 1