It's the biggest non-secret in all of women's basketball — A'ja Wilson, barring some drastic change in events, is going to be picked No. 1 overall in Thursday's WNBA draft in New York City by the Las Vegas Aces.
The Associated Press, ESPN, SB Nation and High Post Hoops, to name a few, have all put out mock drafts after consulting with league executives and experts, and the one thing they all have in common is the South Carolina forward atop the board, forming a franchise cornerstone for the former San Antonio Stars, who moved to Las Vegas this past summer.
But even though everyone knows it, the two people at the heart of it all — A'ja herself and new Aces coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer — are steadfastly refusing to give in to the inevitable and trying to keep some semblance of mystery.
Laimbeer set the tone late last week when he told reporters on a conference call that he "probably" has his No. 1 pick decided but declined to reveal who it was.
On Monday, when Wilson was presented with the Naismith Trophy and spoke to the press one last time as a member of the Gamecock program, that led to some awkward, amusing answers, as Wilson nearly slipped and "revealed" what everyone already knew, and coach Dawn Staley loudly proclaimed the obvious.
"I think everyone knows I'm pretty well in the paint, so now I'm going to the pro level ... they're going to scout you, they're going to know your go-tos, they're going to know everything like the back of their hand, so I think my biggest thing is focusing on the countermove of it, how can I still be productive and be me but not necessarily doing my go-to things," Wilson said when asked what the next step in her development will be. "I think that's how I want to expand my game, and I think that's how Coach Bill will help me."
Staley interrupted, laughing, and asked Wilson, "Coach Bill?"
"You heard it here folks, she'll be the No. 1 pick in Thursday's draft," Staley told reporters.
Wilson also said she only recently learned about the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons teams that featured Laimbeer in the late 1980s and early 1990s, though she didn't specify why or from whom she had learned about those teams.
Lastly, when asked how prepared she felt to leave South Carolina for the first time and live away from home, Wilson didn't come right out and say it, but heavily implied she's visited Las Vegas before.
"Coach (Staley) has helped me and my family's really helped me. Even though I'm here, they kinda let me branch out. So I'm excited to get out there. I've only been — places once," Wilson said. "I'm excited, not to leave South Carolina, but just a change in scenery, get a different feel, a different style of play and be out there on my own."
Staley, for her part, didn't make things easy for Wilson to keep her "secret."
"Just like A'ja for us was a program changer, she'll be a franchise-changer for the Las Vegas Aces," Staley emphatically said. "I'm gonna call it, I've been calling it all season long. I think she's the best player in the draft."
Come Thursday, that prediction will almost certainly be confirmed at the WNBA draft in New York City. The first round will be televised on ESPN2, starting at 7 p.m.