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It didn’t take long for Dawn Staley and A’ja Wilson to slip back into their old coach-player dynamic.

When Wilson reconnected with Staley in Las Vegas this week to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, the first words out of Staley’s mouth were: “You so ratchet with all them tattoos.”

Classic coach Staley.

“She’s so annoying, like, oh my God,” Wilson said, laughing in a video interview conducted through Zoom. “But I love her from the bottom of my heart. When I say that’s my second mom, that is my second mom through and through. When it comes to talking about my tattoos, no one would say that other than a mother.

“But I love being back on the court with her. She’s already talking her crap.”

Wilson knows as much as anyone that Staley isn’t one to mince words, having starred for Staley’s Gamecocks for four years and winning a national championship in the process. Already this week, Staley has jokingly — and lovingly — picked on Wilson’s tattoos and free-throw shooting. For four years at USC, Staley would constantly push Wilson by saying she was “average” and she “blended in,” despite the fact Wilson won SEC player of the year three seasons in a row.

“She would say that I would blend in, but not anymore honey,” Wilson said, laughing. “Not anymore.”

It’s hard to blend in when you have a life-sized statue outside of Colonial Life Arena, a WNBA MVP award and “USA” across your chest.

In late June, USA Basketball announced that Wilson would be one of 12 players to represent America in the Tokyo Olympics, which begin July 23. Staley, who is coaching the U.S. national team for the first time, said Wilson’s inclusion was as much about her maturity as it was about her basketball prowess.

“A’ja, what she’s been able to do both on and off the court, tells us that she’s prepared for this moment,” Staley said. “Playing in an Olympic Games is not just about playing, it’s about being mature. It’s about being able to play with other great players. It’s about also just performing at a high level, as well.”

Staley might still tease Wilson, but there’s little question that the 6-foot-4 forward has continued to develop in her time with the Las Vegas Aces, where she’s averaged 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in four seasons.

As Wilson prepares to compete in her first Olympics at just 24 years old, she hopes to show Staley just how much she’s grown.

“I think she sees and understands that I know the game a little better,” Wilson said. “There would be times in college where I’m like, “OK, I have no idea what she just said.’ But now she’s kind of seeing that I can do it, and it catches her off guard because she still sees me as that young girl that she recruited. But it’s pretty cool just to grow alongside of her for everything that she’s taught me.

“She’s literally groomed me for this moment and helped me get here, both mentally and physically. So I’m just glad that I can share this moment with her.”

Women’s basketball in the Olympics

Olympic competition begins in women’s basketball July 26. The United States pod includes Japan, France and Nigeria.

  • USC Olympians, 2020/21 players – A’ja Wilson (U.S. 5×5), Allisha Gray (U.S. 3×3), Laeticia Amihere (Canada 5×5)

  • USC Olympians, 2020/21 coaches – Dawn Staley (U.S. 5×5 head coach)

  • USC Olympians, all-time players – Shannon Johnson (U.S. 2004, gold medal), Ilona Burgrova (Czech Republic 2012), Iva Sliskovic (Croatia, 2012); Tatyana Troina (Belarus, 2008, 2016)

  • USC Olympians, coaches – Dawn Staley (U.S. asst coach 2008, 2016, 2 gold medals)