USC Women's Basketball

Why A'ja Wilson considered quitting basketball at the start of her junior season

A'ja Wilson embraces her grandmother, Hattie Rakes,after celebrating her decision to attend USC and play basketball for The Gamecocks.
A'ja Wilson embraces her grandmother, Hattie Rakes,after celebrating her decision to attend USC and play basketball for The Gamecocks. tglantz@thestate.com

Near the beginning of the South Carolina women's basketball team's championship 2016-17 season, star forward A'ja Wilson wasn't even sure she wanted to play the sport anymore.

The All-American seriously pondered quitting basketball altogether around October 2016, according to a feature released by ESPN The Magazine on Monday.

The reason for her doubt was the death of her beloved grandmother, Hattie Rakes, she told ESPN. Rakes and Wilson were especially close throughout the latter's childhood, as Rakes encouraged Wilson to overcome her self-consciousness and push herself forward, in addition to introducing her grandchild to her lifelong love of pearls.

So when Rakes died on Oct. 21, 2016, at the age of 95, Wilson said she wasn't sure she saw the point to playing anymore.

"She kept me going so much that I was like, 'Well, there's no need for me to do anything at this point,' " Wilson told ESPN.

Of course, Wilson never actually quit. Instead, she tattooed Hattie Rakes' name across her wrist and led the Gamecocks to a national title in 2017 before sweeping the national player of the year awards in 2018. For senior night this season on Feb. 22, USC paid tribute to both women by handing out free strands of imitation pearls for fans at the game.

Now, Wilson is slated to become the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft on Thursday, embarking on the next phase of her basketball career. Along the way, she told ESPN, she still talks to her grandmother every day.

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