SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — A'ja Wilson insists she's just one of the newcomers on the U.S. women's national team, “one of the young guns” trying to soak up every bit of her first Olympics.
She is doing that, and much more.
The reigning WNBA MVP is making her presence felt at the Tokyo Games on a loaded U.S. roster. Wilson has led the Americans in scoring in each of their three games in pool play and is averaging a double-double as they head into the quarterfinals looking for their seventh straight gold medal.
Wilson credits her teammates with helping her be so comfortable.
“I'm just trying to be a good teammate and communicating with them on both sides of the basketball," Wilson said, “and just letting the game come to me."
The 6-foot-5 Wilson is averaging 20.3 points and 10 rebounds through three games and said this is probably the most she's ever rebounded in her career. That's the role she's being asked to fill in the Olympics, which is very different than what she does for the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA.
“I'm just having fun with it,” Wilson said.
U.S. coach Dawn Staley knows why Wilson, a three-time AP All-American who helped her win a national championship at South Carolina, is standing out on this stage — and it's not complicated.
“A'ja is being A'ja,” Staley said.
And while this version of Wilson is more polished than the one Staley coached in college, she is flourishing playing with so much talent. Wilson is one of six newcomers to the U.S. roster at these games, but she's one of five WNBA MVPs on the roster. There's also five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi around to make Wilson's life easier with pinpoint passes.
Then there's fellow post players like Brittney Griner, Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Breanna Stewart. Opponents haven't been double-teaming Wilson, giving her room to work.
“She's comfortable in her skin," Staley said, “and that's a great thing for any young player."
Wilson had a double-double in wins over both Nigeria and Japan. On Monday, Wilson led the U.S. with 22 points in a 93-82 win over France that clinched Group B. She had seven rebounds, blocked a shot and had two steals. Wilson had a chance at an easy layup off one steal but missed the shot.
No, there was no thought of dunking.
“It's funny. I missed it, and Coach Staley just knew I was going to miss it,” Wilson said. “See? That's that the juju that I didn't need, but it's OK. We got the win.”
Wilson's teammates will give her a pass on missing the easy one with the way she is playing.
“I can’t say enough about A'ja Wilson and just the way that she’s performing and just stepping up into who she is as a player and a woman,” said Charles, a three-time Olympian and the 2012 WNBA MVP.
Stewart, in her second Olympics, sees Wilson playing with confidence knowing where she wants to be on the floor and taking what opposing defenses are giving her.
“It's really hard for teams to match up with us with the five that we have on the court no matter when we have the five on the court,” Stewart said. “She's been aggressive.”
The quarterfinals are up next on Wednesday with Wilson, who turns 25 on Friday, eager to keep proving she can do all that's being asked of her.
“Making sure that I'm there, that they know that I'm there for them," Wilson said, “so they can trust me and hold me accountable."
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