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A’ja Wilson praises Dawn Staley’s ‘disciplined’ South Carolina team

A'ja Wilson, Dawn Staley and South Carolina celebrate their 2017 NCAA championship. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

A’ja Wilson is giving out advice to players participating in March Madness, drawing on her own experience winning the national championship with South Carolina in 2017.

“Don’t look too far ahead,” Wilson tells South Carolina head coach and host Dawn Staley on the latest episode of NETLIFE. “Stay in the moment.”

Staley has had a similar message for her team during the postseason, and Wilson has noticed, telling her former coach that the 2021-22 Gamecocks are “probably the most disciplined team you’ve had.”

Staley agrees, commending her team’s persistence during their 49-33 win over Miami in the second round Sunday. “I will say this: This team was committed to playing defense, the core of them, from their very first year of college,” she says.

The victory, which Staley admits was ugly, propelled the Gamecocks to their eighth-straight Sweet 16 appearance, a streak Wilson helped start during her college career from 2014-18.

“I think it’s pretty cool to just be a part of the legacy,” says Wilson, who had a statue built in her honor last year outside of South Carolina’s home court, Colonial Life Arena.

“Now the statue is a draw,” Staley says. “Every team that comes through here usually stops and takes a picture with the statue.”

“It’s really nice to see the basketball community embrace us as South Carolina’s women’s basketball program,” Wilson adds.

With that distinction, however, comes great responsibility. Wilson knows it well from 2017, when she and South Carolina entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed. “You don’t want to be that team that loses,” she says.

Wilson, who now stars for the Las Vegas Aces, recalls the Gamecocks’ second-round matchup against Arizona State that year as one of the most difficult she ever played during her college career. Down 11 points in the fourth quarter, South Carolina stormed back to advance to the Sweet 16. Wilson says the close call taught her a valuable lesson.

“Games like that, it really makes you appreciate and understand that you have to prove why you’re the No. 1 seed every single game, no matter what number is by the other team,” she says.

Listen to the full conversation between Staley and Wilson on the NETLIFE podcast.