February 29, 2024 

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces face Puerto Rico in South Carolina

Wilson: 'I’m excited and can’t wait to return to Columbia with my Aces team'

The Las Vegas Aces, led by A’ja Wilson, announced on Thursday that they will be traveling to South Carolina to play against the Puerto Rico National Team at Colonial Life Arena. The venue is home to the two-time national champions, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, Wilson’s alma mater. The game is scheduled for Saturday, May 11, at 1 p.m. EST, three days before the 2024 WNBA regular season begins.

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Wilson, in many ways, laid the foundation for the South Carolina women’s basketball program and played for the Gamecocks from 2014 to 2018. During her tenure, she led the team to its first-ever national title in 2017 and four SEC titles, made two appearances in the Women’s Final Four, won the 2018 Consensus NCAA Player of the Year award, and compiled a record of 129-16.

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In January 2021, the University of South Carolina unveiled a statue named after Wilson at Colonial Life Arena. Also, her first book, Dear Black Girls: How to be True to You, was published on Feb. 6.

The preseason game against the Puerto Rico National Team will mark Wilson’s second return to Colonial Life Arena to play since graduating in 2018. The last time she played there was on Sept. 5, 2018, when Wilson had 16 points and seven rebounds in the USA White Team’s victory over the USA Red Team.

“I’m excited and can’t wait to return to Columbia with my Aces team,” Wilson said. “It’s my dream to be able to go back to the place where it all started and showcase what my skills are now. This means the world to me, and I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Following her college career, Wilson was drafted as the first overall pick by the Las Vegas Aces in the 2018 WNBA Draft. She had a successful stint in the league, winning two WNBA Championships in 2022 and 2023, two league MVP awards in 2020 and 2022, and being named to the All-Star team five times. Additionally, Wilson tied the WNBA single-game scoring record with 53 points in the Aces’ win over the Atlanta Dream last August.

“What a recognition of our city and our FAMS for the two-time WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces to create a special event here in Columbia,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said in a press release. “Obviously, we’re excited to see A’ja play on her former home court at Colonial Life Arena again, but we also love to see this kind of creative decision-making that allows our sport to continue to grow on all levels.”

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Puerto Rico has been selected to participate in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. The national team will use this exhibition as a part of their training to prepare for their second Olympic appearance, after competing for the first time in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The tickets for the preseason game between the defending champions, the Las Vegas Aces, and Puerto Rico National Team will go on sale on Sunday, March 3.

Written by Aya Abdeen

Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next Hoops since December 2022. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.

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