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A’ja Wilson on South Carolina’s WNBA club: ‘I’m a product of Dawn Staley’

Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson played for Dawn Staley at South Carolina from 2014-18. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dawn Staley has built a pipeline to the WNBA at 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 is the third-highest total in the league behind Notre Dame (10) and UConn (16).

“To see all of us achieving our goals and being able to play against each other, it’s special,” Cooke told The Athletic. The 22-year-old guard played in 39 games for the Los Angeles Sparks in her first professional season.

Players say that Staley’s coaching style helps to prepare them for the WNBA from the moment they step on campus as freshmen. She instills “pro habits,” including mental toughness and work ethic, to help her players flourish at the next level.

The formula has worked. On top of 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. A shoo-in for the 2023 award, Boston averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Indiana Fever.

“That South Carolina program really grooms these guys to compete,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said.

And former Gamecocks returning to campus and helping out the program helps too.

“When they come back, I try to get them to practice with us,” Staley said. “I try to get them to impart knowledge on how to play at the next level, the type of habits they’ve created to have staying power and to have dominating power once they’re in the league.”

Wilson sees the wisdom Staley has imparted on her as a “huge key” to her success with the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces. That includes twice being named WNBA MVP – with a potential third accolade coming. And she’s been happy seeing her fellow South Carolina alums find success in the WNBA as well.

“To see it all unfold and to see us all here being successful across the league, it’s truly something special,” Wilson said. “I’m always proud to say, I’m a product of Dawn Staley, and that’s the stamp. That’s a big stamp for me and I love it, and you can see it carries out throughout my college teammates. And it’s just a type of vibe that we give, the culture that we built there. It’s no surprise that we’re being very successful in this league.”

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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Team USA, Germany Play Pre-Olympic Exhibition Game in London

Team USA's 5x5 Basketball Team stands for the National Anthem before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Team USA looks to rebound from Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game loss in an exhibition against Germany today. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball's 5x5 team will tip off in an exhibition against Germany in London this afternoon, getting in one last tune-up before the Summer Olympics begin.

The US is hunting an eighth-straight gold medal this year, with group stage play starting on July 29th.

Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to face Germany in pre-Olympic exhibition.
Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to take on Germany in London. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

US to use All-Star loss as fuel

Coming off the weekend's All-Star Game loss, the Olympians are ready to repeat history: They earned their Tokyo gold medal immediately after losing the first Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game back in 2021.

Breanna Stewart, who led Team USA with a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double on Saturday, said that the defeat "is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities, [and now] we can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better."

Today’s tilt against Germany will see the US work to lock in their defense, particularly in the paint. They'll also lean into their positional versatility before heading to Paris.

WNBA pro Satou Sabally leads Team Germany in today's pre-Olympic exhibition game against Team USA.
WNBA pro Satou Sabally helped Germany to their first-ever Olympic berth. (Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Olympic debutants Germany enter first US clash

The exhibition marks the first-ever US-Germany linkup. The German team will make their Olympic debut in Paris after decades of failing to qualify for major international competitions. Their sixth-place 2023 EuroBasket finish sent them into February’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they punched their ticket to the 2024 Games.

Leading Germany's run was two-time WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally, who put up career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, and steals with Dallas last season. Her 20-point, 11-rebound double-double was the difference-maker in Germany's must-win 73-71 Olympic qualifying victory over Brazil.

Other German players to watch include 2022 NY Liberty draft-pick — and Sabally's sister — Nyara Sabally, along with Liberty sharpshooter Leonie Fiebich.

Where to watch the Team USA vs. Germany game

Today’s exhibition tips off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on FS1.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: USWNT Star Jaedyn Shaw Is Expecting “Dubs All Around”

retired uswnt star kelley o'hara interviewing san diego wave and uswnt forward jaedyn shaw
'1v1' is back with Jaedyn Shaw joining Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, San Diego Wave and USWNT star Jaedyn Shaw joins two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from the 19-year-old Wave FC phenom about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her experience with international competition at this point in her young career, and how she's preparing to take on the 2024 Summer Games.

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The 91st: Complete USWNT & Olympic Soccer Preview Featuring Jess McDonald

Logo for JWS USWNT Olympic show The 91st
The latest season of JWS' awarding-winning Olympics show 'The 91st' premieres today. (Just Women's Sports)

We're back! Hosts Jordan Angeli, Duda Pavao, and retired USWNT forward Jess McDonald deliver a full preview of this year's Olympic soccer tournament in Paris.

Watch for full analysis of USWNT manager Emma Hayes's coaching style, this team's shifting identity in this new USWNT era, and a projected starting XI for the team's group stage opener against Zambia. The 91st hosts also break down all three Olympic groups — including top players and teams to track throughout the tournament — plus give their predictions for the medal rounds and individual awards.

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