Work hard, be true to yourself, listen to your parents and trust God.
Do these things and you’ll be a champion, A’ja Wilson, a national basketball champion, told North Augusta High School’s state championship basketball team Thursday during a banquet to honor the Lady Yellow Jackets.
“There were times when I wanted to cuss out Dawn Staley,” Wilson said of her University of South Carolina coach, “because she was pushing me to limits that I did not want to go to. But she taught me it takes a lot of hard work to get to where you want to be.”
That hard work ethic applies to the classroom, too.
“Without books, I’m nothing,” Wilson said. “I can just dribble a basketball pretty good.”
She related her struggles with dyslexia and how she had to work that much harder to excel in class as well as on the court. Not only is it difficult to read, but it’s hard to grasp the plays her coach draws on the board.
Discipline played an important role in both, Wilson said.
“Discipline wins games, it wins championships,” she said, telling how Coach Staley takes players’ phones away from them at 11 p.m. on the night before a game.
“I need my phone,” she said, the drama in her voice drawing laughs from her audience.
“But then I realize I can rest now. That (doing without her phone) takes discipline. And that’s going to make me a better player and person. That’s how coach disguises things and turns them into lessons,” she said.
Then Wilson told the student-athletes to listen to their parents.
“I know it’s tough, trust me, but they know what they’re talking about,” she said. “I’m 20 years old and my mom still calls me every day and asks ‘Did you make your bed?’ ”
During her struggles with dyslexia, “there was a time where I didn’t want to do anything. It really brought me down. I didn’t want to play basketball. That’s when my parents played a huge role.”
Finally, she said, to get to the next level, the younger players should set goals and trust God to help reach them.
“He’s got you. He’s been with me through everything,” she said. “You can still be you and still achieve your goals. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something. You’ve got to have that mentality that I am the best at what I do and no one can tell me different. That’s what I said to myself going into that national championship game.”
Also during Thursday’s banquet, the players received their state championship rings, and state legislators Rep. Bill Hixon and Sen. Tom Young unveiled a highway sign that will be put up to honor the team.
Next week, the team will travel to Columbia to be honored at the statehouse, Hixon announced.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org