Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson played for Dawn Staley at South Carolina from 2014 to 2018. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dawn Staley has built a pipeline to the WNBA in South Carolina, and that has been on full display during the 2023 WNBA season.
From rookies Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke to MVP candidate A’ja Wilson, nine former Gamecocks currently grace WNBA rosters, The Athletic reported. That’s the third-highest total in the league behind Notre Dame (10) and UConn (16).
“Seeing us all achieve our goals and being able to play against each other is special,” Cooke told The Athletic. The 22-year-old guard played 39 games for the Los Angeles Sparks in his first professional season.
Players say Staley’s coaching style helps them prepare for the WNBA from the moment they walk on campus as freshmen. She instills “professional habits,” including mental toughness and work ethic, to help her players thrive at the next level.
The formula has worked. In addition to having nine players on rosters, three of the last seven Rookie of the Year winners will have come from South Carolina: Allisha Gray, Wilson and, soon, Boston. Boston, a shoo-in for the 2023 award, averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Indiana Fever.
“That South Carolina program really prepares these guys to compete,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said.
And former Gamecocks returning to campus and helping the program help, too.
“When they come back, I try to get them to practice with us,” Staley said. “I try to impart knowledge on how to play at the next level, the kind of habits that they’ve created to have staying power and dominant power once they’re in the league.”
Wilson sees the wisdom Staley has imparted to him as a “big key” to his success with the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces. That includes being named two-time WNBA MVP, with a possible third award on the way. And she’s happy to see her fellow South Carolina alumnae find success in the WNBA as well.
“To see it all unfold and to see all of us here having success throughout the league, it’s really something special,” Wilson said. “I am always proud to say that I am a product of Dawn Staley and that is the seal. That’s a big hallmark for me and I love it, and you can see it in my college teammates. And it’s just kind of the vibe that we give, the culture that we build there. “It’s no wonder we’re having a lot of success in this league.”
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