On Saturday, former South Carolina women's basketball stars and friends A'ja Wilson and Allisha Gray got the spotlight one last time, albeit briefly, at Colonial Life Arena, as the two joined their classmates in walking across the stage at graduation.
Roughly 30 hours, the duo, now officially USC alums with degrees in communications, took the floor at a different arena — College Park Center in Arlington, Texas — for their first WNBA game against each other.
It was the final preseason game for Wilson's Las Vegas Aces and Gray's Dallas Wings, and the start of a professional rivalry between the league's reigning Rookie of the Year and her heir apparent.
Just don't expect anything about their relationship to change — at graduation Saturday, Gray and Wilson were goofing off like normal, comparing the decorations on their mortarboards, showing off their national championship rings from 2017 and posing for pictures together.
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"Tomorrow we're going to do our handshake, we're going to do everything," Wilson said. "We're still best friends no matter what. It's going to be fun."
Competition, however, has always been central to their relationship.
"We compete at everything, it could be a community service project," Wilson said. "Of course we're going to be on different teams and running different stuff, but when it comes down to me and Allisha, and how we interact with each other at any level, it's pretty much the same. We love to go at it. When she was at South Carolina, I would try to beat her everytime she got to the lane. So for her, she would attack me more aggressively."
And Gray made it clear she had no plans to go any easier on Wilson as she adjusts to life as a professional.
"I'm trying to get this dub. Start this season off right, this preseason. It's real season when I play against her. There's no preseason when we play each other. I got to play for real." she said, laughing.
The end result backed that up — the Wings topped the Aces 68-55. Gray collected 10 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Wilson had nine points and 12 rebounds, but shot just 23.5 percent from the field. Another ex-USC player, Kaela Davis, had two points, three rebounds and two turnovers. Wilson will have her chance at revenge June 15, when the two teams face again.
Last year, former Gamecocks in the league had a friendly wager for head-to-head matchups — the losing player had to buy the winner dinner. Wilson and Gray said Saturday they'll be coming up with a different bet.
"Allisha and I gotta figure something out. I don't know if that means she's gonna have to wear an Aces shirt. It's going to be something," Wilson said.
On Saturday, though, basketball took a backseat to caps and gowns — mostly. The top of Wilson's cap was adorned with a Bible verse and a woman wearing a tutu, carrying a basketball and making the hand gesture of her sorority. Gray's featured a Wings logo, a Gamecock symbol, a basketball and a clapboard for her major in broadcast communications — "all my little dreams summed up in one,"
Wilson also sported a "net-lace" from one of the baskets from her last SEC championship and considered wearing her jersey underneath her gown, though she decided against that. Still, with commencement taking place in CLA, where Wilson dominated for four years, the basketball memories were inescapable.
"It does feel weird to just to be in here and not playing, not running out of the huddle, but it's always a good time," Wilson said. "This is definitely a lot of fun, just to come back from Las Vegas, to be here and to take it all in with my classmates, and of course to see Allisha. Just the feeling of completion, that's the biggest thing. You know you're done with everything."
For Gray, who chose to spend the offseason at USC studying instead of playing overseas, where most women's basketball players earn most of their money, Saturday's ceremony had a different meaning.
"It was definitely very important, no matter what," to get her degree, she said. "I know basketball one day is going to stop, so it was definitely great to come back, get my degree. That's one thing nobody can take away from me."