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MX News Update 2024

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How WNBA star A’ja Wilson has inspired others outside of basketball

COLUMBIA – Zaria Corley has always loved South Carolina women’s basketball.

The 10-year-old has a simple routine. She watches the games and goes outside to practice what she saw. Even before Zaria’s famous rap about Aliyah Boston, she modeled her playing after A’ja Wilson. Zaria loves Wilson’s versatility: shooting a silky sweater or shooting an up-and-under.

She’s fun to watch.

“As a young girl, I always wanted to be like A’ja Wilson. She inspired me to play basketball,” Zaria, a native of Batesburg-Leesville, told the Greenville News. “It’s exciting to see her play… she’s one of my idols.”

Born and raised in Columbia, Wilson solidified legendary status in South Carolina. Consensus National Player of the Year, three-time SEC Player of the Year, tournament MVP for the 2017 NCAA Championship, to name a few of Wilson’s accolades.

Her six seasons in the WNBA with the Las Vegas Aces introduced Wilson to a new group of fans.

Arionna Long, 13, from Missouri, went to Aces Games with her grandmother and was immediately inspired by Wilson.

“She gives me the confidence to create my own destiny and never change for anyone, to stay true to who I am,” Arionna said.

In February, Wilson released her first book, “Dear Black Girls,” and Marsay traveled to South Carolina for Wilson’s book tour. She met Wilson again at the “Unapologetic Girls Summit” in March and Wilson signed her shoe.

But before Wilson’s WNBA championships, two league MVP awards, five All-Star appearances and her book, something else drew her to a new group of fans two weeks before the draft.

“That was the day I found out I had dyslexia,” Wilson wrote in Players Tribune on March 24, 2018.

How A’ja Wilson is inspiring a new group of fans

Wilson’s honesty increased her recognition off the field. When Wilson plays in Columbia on Saturday for a preseason game with the Aces against the Puerto Rico national team, fans will be watching for a whole new reason.

“I think it’s inspiring to see someone with dyslexia be really successful at what he or she does,” says Jordan, a fourth-grade student with dyslexia at Swift School in Roswell, Georgia. The Greenville News agreed not to use Jordan’s last name for this story.

“It feels good to know that you can look and see that there is someone else who has gone through the same challenges as you and is very successful, to be able to follow in their footsteps or do something similar. It (gives) me a lot trust,” Jordan added.

The Swift School was founded in 1998 with the goal of building a school to help students with dyslexia and language learning differences.

In October, to celebrate National Dyslexia Awareness Month, students arrived dressed as various celebrities with dyslexia. One student went as Spider-Man star actor Tom Holland, another as Will Smith, one as Tom Cruise. Then there was Jordan, smiling from ear to ear, wearing a shirt that read “2022 WNBA Champions Las Vegas Aces” and a name tag that read “A’ja Wilson.”

“I was very proud that I was inspired by Wilson and I wanted to show that,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s love for Wilson started before she knew how similar the two were. Jordan sat down on the couch with her grandmother and mother before an Aces game and wondered who her family’s favorite player was. When they answered “A’ja Wilson,” it was the first time Jordan had heard her name.

Although she doesn’t play basketball yet, Jordan hopes she can one day inspire others with dyslexia in the same way Wilson did for her.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t want to tell people I have dyslexia, but now I feel really confident telling people I have dyslexia,” Jordan said of Wilson’s impact. “I would love to talk to someone and tell them it’s okay to have dyslexia.”

The A’ja Wilson Foundation started in 2019 with Wilson and her parents, with a simple mission: “Change the culture by overcoming the stigma of dyslexia and ending bullying.” A secret Wilson said she expected to keep for the rest of her life is at the root of her plea. Since writing the Players Tribune piece, Wilson’s foundation has worked with numerous schools and organizations.

For Alison Katz, a teacher completing her 13th year at Swift, Wilson was introduced to her through Jordan. In her extensive career teaching students with dyslexia, she notices the difference when an athlete comes forward to talk about their issues.

ACES IN COLUMBIA: How WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, A’ja Wilson Scheduled South Carolina’s Preseason Game Against Puerto Rico

“Some students have challenges in the classroom but are so gifted outside the classroom, so to be able to see them shine (different sports), it’s really fun for them to be able to look up to these very talented athletes and say ‘hey ‘.That could be me one day,’ Katz said.

Lulu Kesin covers South Carolina athletics for The Greenville News and the USA TODAY Network. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @Lulukesin