A'ja Wilson could have gone anywhere she wanted for college. UConn. North Carolina. Tennessee. But she chose to stay home and picked South Carolina, becoming the highest-profile recruit the program had ever known and helping the Gamecocks to their first Women's Final Four last year as the team's second-leading scorer.
If Friday night's performance was any indication, there will be no sophomore slump for the Richland County product, who attended high school (Heathwood Hall) a mere 15 minutes from Colonial Life Arena. Wilson poured in 20 points and 14 rebounds, the sixth double-double of her young career, to help the second-ranked Gamecocks to a 88-80 season opening win over #6 Ohio State. Her impact was felt down the stretch: with 2:16 left, she knocked down a huge jumper to give the Gamecocks an 80-78 lead, and essentially iced it with a layup with 47.7 seconds left - part of a 10-2 run during which she scored eight points. The tall forward (6'5") also added a pair of blocks on the night, using her height to her advantage.
With five players, including Tiffany Mitchell (15 points) and Khadijah Sessions (12 points) graduating after this year, the opportunity is there for Wilson to take on a major role in establishing herself alongside Alaina Coates (17 points) as one of the future leaders of this team. That was especially the case when Mitchell picked up her fourth foul with 3:53 left and the Gamecocks holding on to a 76-71 lead, a lead they would eventually lose but get back in the end. Wilson's emergence, along with other players, was extremely promising and will go a long way in telling us how deep this team will advance if they are able to return to the NCAA Tournament (and there's no reason to believe that they can't).
There's still a long way to go in this season, but year two of A'ja Wilson's career is off to a great start. And if tonight is any indication, she'll certainly depart in a few years as one of the top players in program history.