South Carolina Basketball: Dawn Staley speaks out, comes to defense of A’ja Wilson after MVP snub

South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley with star player A'ja Wilson. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley with star player A'ja Wilson. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

If South Carolina basketball fans were asked about the names they most associate with their favorite program, the two that would be mentioned most often would be Aja Wilson and Dawn Staley (shout out to Aliyah Boston for making it close).

Wilson is one of the two greatest players to come through the program (along with Boston), and she has become the best player in the WNBA. Staley is the best coach in Gamecock history, and she has been among the country’s best for a decade, building the below-average South Carolina basketball program into a national powerhouse.

Aja Wilson, who was the #1 high school recruit coming out of Heathwood Hall in the class of 2014, continued her dominance playing for Coach Staley at Carolina, winning a national championship and National Player of the Year award.

It comes as no surprise then, that Staley would be outspoken about Wilson being snubbed for the WNBA MVP award.

The two-time MVP should have been selected for the league’s top honor once again in 2023. Instead, New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart won the award. In fact, Wilson finished third behind Stewart and Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun.

Stewart and Thomas had phenomenal seasons and would have been deserving of the MVP most seasons. However, Wilson was even better in 2023, and Dawn Staley was outspoken about her former star player.

Because of a points-based voting system, Stewart won the award despite not having the most 1st-place votes, 2nd-place votes, or 3rd-place votes. The points were skewed against Wilson because of a ridiculous 4th-place vote from an anonymous WNBA MVP voter.

The overall vote was the closest of all-time. It was so close, in fact, that had that erroneous ballot flipped Wilson and Stewart, Aja Wilson would have been the 2023 MVP.

Wilson was unhappy with the snub, telling the media that it “hurt” to lose out on the honor, but her play on the court in the WNBA Playoffs has proven even further that the voting panel got it wrong.

Wilson has been incredible for the Aces. She became the first player in league history to average 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks in any three-game playoff stretch, and her Aces squad has been dominant, winning their four games by an average of 18 points per game. Wilson has shot 62% from the field.

In contrast to Wilson’s dominance, Stewart has been dreadful offensively for the Liberty. She is shooting 27% so far this postseason. She has taken more shots than she has total points scored, and she is a remarkable 2-27 from 3-point land. The Liberty were almost knocked out of the playoffs in the first round and are tied in the semifinal with Thomas’ Connecticut Sun team.

Thomas was very good in the Sun’s first-round matchup with the Minnesota Lynx, but she has struggled mightily to score against Stewart’s Liberty team, shooting just 25% from the field. Like Stewart, she still impacts the game in other ways outside of scoring, but that is not a separating factor for either as Aja Wilson also impacts games beyond putting the ball through the hoop.

Wilson has scored 40 more points than Stewart this postseason, despite playing one fewer game and taking 22 fewer shots. She has scored 29 points more than Thomas but has taken fewer shots than her, as well. Wilson leads the three players in points, shooting efficiency, rebounds, and blocks, and she has the fewest turnovers and fewest missed shots.

Rightfully so, many in the WNBA media have been applauding Wilson’s efforts this postseason, calling her things like “the GOAT,” “the best player in the game,” and “historically dominant.” Dawn Staley, though, is not so happy with the media’s delayed recognition of Wilson’s greatness.

Wilson’s current coach, WNBA legend Becky Hammon, said that she blames herself for the snub, adding that she should have played her superstar in the 4th quarters of the team’s many blowout victories this season so that she could “pad her stats.”

On the season, even while playing over 200 minutes fewer than Thomas and over 100 minutes fewer than Stewart, Wilson scored just 7 points less than Stewart and almost 300 more than Thomas.

She has outrebounded Stewart all year (after trailing right behind Thomas’ rebounding total, she passed her this postseason), and she has had more blocked shots than both players while shooting over 80 percentage points better from the field than Stewart and Thomas. Oh, yeah. She also tied the single-game scoring record (53) and is the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

For both Becky Hammon and Dawn Staley, the outspoken support of their player has nothing to do with disrespecting Stewart or Thomas. Instead, it has everything to do with pointing out the ridiculous snub of Aja Wilson.

Breanna Stewart and Alyssa Thomas are elite players and will be in the Hall of Fame one day, but Aja Wilson will go down as the greatest to ever play the game. Stewart and Thomas had great seasons, but Wilson’s was even better despite playing significantly fewer minutes and having more team success.

Stewart won the trophy, and Thomas finished 2nd, but Aja Wilson was the real 2023 WNBA MVP.