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‘I love A’ja’: Rookies Reese, Carter sing praises of Aces star

Updated June 25, 2024 - 3:45 pm

Rookie center Jessika Carter, a week into her time with the Aces, still gets giddy when two-time MVP A’ja Wilson’s name comes up.

Carter was a second-round pick by the New York Liberty in April’s draft but was waived before the regular season. She joined the Aces on June 16.

The 6-foot-5 Mississippi State alum said she ran up and down her apartment screaming after her agent told her she’d be moving to Las Vegas. The reaction made sense given she was getting another shot in the WNBA with the back-to-back defending champions.

Then Carter realized she’d be playing with one of her biggest inspirations as well.

“I didn’t really like watching (basketball),” Carter said. “But before every college game I literally would go on YouTube and watch A’ja’s highlights just to have it in my mind. So I could go out and just try to mimic some of the steps.”

Carter said she doesn’t look up to any other player the way she does Wilson. The 2023 WNBA Finals MVP is a celebrity outside of the game, Carter said.

Being admired by younger players is nothing new for Wilson. She’s embraced being a mentor for up-and-coming talents even beyond the confines of her own team.

Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese sung Wilson’s praises after a win against Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever on Sunday. In that game, Reese became the first rookie since Wilson in 2018 to score at least 25 points and grab at least 15 rebounds.

“I love A’ja,” Reese told reporters after the game. “She was mentoring me when I was (in college) at Maryland, and she’s been someone I’ve always tried to model my game after on and off the court.”

Reese and the Sky will host the Aces on Thursday at Wintrust Arena. Chicago’s roster also features 2024 third overall pick Kamilla Cardoso, who like Wilson played for coach Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

Cardoso has said she didn’t watch the WNBA before entering the league, but she watched the Aces.

A mentor to rookies

“Oh my God,” Carter said she thought when she met Wilson for the first time at the Aces’ practice facility. “Here she comes.”

Carter said after Monday’s practice she has gotten more comfortable around Wilson. Still, Carter has to stop herself from fangirling when she gets advice from Wilson or sees the star respond in the Aces’ group chat.

It’s not weird for Wilson to interact with players who are also fans of hers. She experienced the same phenomenon when she met Candace Parker, who joined the Aces for the 2023 season.

“It’s funny,” Wilson said. “It was one of those things where I was like, ‘I can’t flip out because that’s my teammate. But wow, this is someone that I admired my whole entire life.’ She was my phone screen, posters in the room.”

Wilson will likely have a similar impact in the years to come. Aces coach Becky Hammon joked Monday that Wilson is the reason Reese wears a single leg sleeve on the court.

Wilson said she takes a hands-off approach to her relationship with rookies like Reese and Carter, but that doesn’t take away her fondness for them.

“I reach out, but I also don’t hover,” Wilson said. “You get enough noise, and the last thing you want is just to constantly have this one person that’s like, ‘Hey.’ So I don’t ever do that. But I definitely let them know that I’m always in their corner. I’m here with them, for them. If they have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask me – the good, the bad, the ugly of it. I will tell you straight up and I’ll give you my point of view about it.”

Wilson said she remembers calling Reese her “daughter” when Reese was at Maryland, but Reese has since grown out of the title.

“I saw the potential that she had,” Wilson said. “She found her own path and her own journey. But she knows that I’m a call away. Even if we’re competitors, like, I’m gonna always be there. So that’s kind of how my mentorship works.”

Still, Wilson doesn’t give anyone special treatment when the ball is tipped.

“It’s gonna sound weird, but I don’t see faces or names,” Wilson said. “I just see bodies. I see skill.”

Wilson still might have some friendly conversations with Reese when the ball isn’t in play Thursday.

“Just welcome to the league,” Wilson said with a laugh. “ Glad to have you here.”

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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