A’ja Wilson Is Keeping It Light As The Aces Chase Their First Championship

A’ja Wilson knows what it’s like to do things first. She helped the University of South Carolina win its first title in 2017, then became the WNBA’s first overall pick in 2018. Since then, she’s been in sniffing distance several times of the Las Vegas Aces’ first-ever WNBA championship, a feat she’s again vying for this summer amid a first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Mercury.

At the same time, Wilson also has found her way onto your phone and TV screens more than your average athlete, becoming the first WNBA player to strike deals with multiple brands as a sponsor. The latest is Ruffles, which added Wilson to its Chip Deal lineup this week, unveiling a social media campaign centered on Wilson and the newly created Ruffles Ridge Twist Smoky BBQ and Double Cheddar chip lines.

Wilson took time after Game 1 against Phoenix to talk with Dime about the partnership, her mindset in her fifth season, and what needs to happen for the Aces to put a ring on it in 2022.

A cool part of your new partnership with Ruffles, on top of being the first female athlete on their roster, is they created a new chip for you. If a basketball fan is reading this, what do they need to know about a Ruffles Ridge Twist and how it tastes?

It is not your average chip. It’s pretty mouth-watering because the smokey barbecue really gets you in the mindset of the barbecue down South. That’s why I picked this chip, because it really just made me think of back home.

It’s just really good. I hate that I just keep saying that, but it actually puts you in the mind of a barbecue but it also has a tangy taste to it. It’s just an overall good chip, and it’s not your average chip because it’s a twist.

It low-key kind of melts in your mouth because it’s soft but it’s crunchy at the same time.

I’m the type of person where I love barbecue cooking, I’ll obviously eat it if somebody’s making, I’ll order it at a restaurant, but I don’t always love BBQ chips. How would you sell me on trying these out?

There’s no need to be skeptical because it’s not a chip. Brendon, you gotta expand your mind and extend that palette. If you’re gonna be a snackaholic, you’ve got to get into the chip. This is how you distinguish that you’re a snackaholic because it’s not a chip, it’s a twist. It’s not a chip anymore, it’s a twist.

Now you’ve gotta buy the bag because you gotta try something that’s different. You get what I’m saying?

I feel you. Yes.

See, see? I got you. We’re here.

You’re getting me there.

You’ll be like, ‘it’s different, I love it.’

I saw you post online when this new Ruffles deal was announced calling yourself something along the lines of a Snackaholic. So I wanted to ask you about your methods here too. Typically, are you a chips and dip person, chips by themselves, do you have chips with a sandwich? What’s the best way to enjoy Ruffles or any chip?

I enjoy Ruffles just by themselves, just a bag of chips, and I can’t eat just one of course, you gotta eat multiple because that’s the whole point. I could eat it with a sandwich, but sometimes it’s best to just eat it by itself.

I’m definitely a girl that can eat a bag of chips all by herself.

You and the Aces pulled out a win in Game 1 against Phoenix but fans were probably surprised to see you have a quiet night. We could see your exasperation at times during the game. What have you learned in your career about how to bounce back during a game when shots aren’t going in?

The biggest thing is just the mindset. Going in, I’m still human at the end of the day. I don’t pray for basketballs to not go in the hoop, but sometimes it’s just not your night, there’s a lid on the basket. It was tough, I found myself thinking if I could just make one I’d be happy and I guess God let me get one in the second half.

I couldn’t be too down on myself because it is what it is, at the end of the day, we won. I can harp on it all day but we won. I have a chance to play another game. That’s the beauty of the game, the beauty of the bounce-back, is in the playoffs there’s an opportunity to get better, an opportunity to adapt and adjust, and that’s what I’m gonna do.

I’m a pro. My games haven’t been phenomenal every season, every day, so I’ve just really learned to find the little happinesses that I can within the flow of the game and just have fun while I’m out there because I get paid to hoop, I get paid to do something that I love. And I’m not going to take that for granted just because the ball’s not going in the hoop. So I just try to find other ways to still be productive for my team.

You talked about the one-dribble pull-up off the pick and roll in the second half. You’re a unique player where a get-back-in-rhythm shot for you might be that shot, which to a lot of other players would be pretty difficult. Do you ever think about your game in that way?

It must be helpful to you to have the comfort that you don’t have to get to the rim or get to the line to get back in rhythm.

Oh yeah. For sure. That’s what I love, I guess, about my game is when I say I just need to see one go through the hoop, it can definitely be a one-dribble pull-up off a screen, contested (laughs).

That’s something that I love because in this league, ever since maybe after my rookie year, I get super surprised when something is open. Because my whole time in this league, I’ve been guarded, so I know I’m not going to get just a wide open layup where I can just pump fake and get right to it.

When I’m in the game, I look at it like, ‘where can I just get a little opening?’ and I’m good. It’s pretty fun to know, who knows where this shot’s coming from, but it’s going up.

Talking about momentum, it seems like one of the most famous highlights of your pro career came, I think it was during the Finals in the Bubble, when you made a big defensive play and just look up into the rafters of the building and let out a scream. It felt like there was a similar moment last night, rotating over and making a block. How motivating are those moments for you and your teammates, to be able to come up big in those spots and do it in other ways and have them be signature moments for you?

Those are key. Sometimes when your shot’s not going in, you still have to find ways to produce for your team, so those are the games where you need a momentum shift. And it doesn’t have to be a deep three from the logo where it’s like, ‘oh my god’ and the lid pops off the place.

I think it’s just little ways to hype up my team and get my team involved. And when I see them kind of drooping down into a slump, I’m like, no, what can we do to change this? Because yeah, basketball’s a game of runs, but we need it in our favor.

So I’ll do anything I can to build my team up and help motivate them, and if it comes with screaming and kicking my leg in the air and looking crazy, then I’ll do it because these games are big deals. These are the playoff. We gotta lock in.

What do you think of the new WNBA playoffs formatting? Especially with Game 2 at home, I’m sure with you (being the higher seed) you’re not going to complain, but how does that differ from the past?

Yeah I’ve been in it both ways, I’ve been the one-and-done and I’ve been on double byes (under the old structure). I love this format because it’s in the flow of our season, so it’s like a normal game day. When you have a double bye, you’re like, “oh my god, we’re in the playoffs,” and you’re playing a team that’s already been in playoff action. Game 1 of that series is always not the prettiest because we’re just getting used to playing playoff basketball.

So I love this format. Home or away, I would love it, because I still feel like I’m in the regular season, in a sense, because there’s no stoppage.

It’s only been one game so this answer might be the same as it was a month ago, but if I ask you what has to happen for the Las Vegas Aces to cross the finish line and win a championship this year, what comes to mind first for you?

Us getting out of our own way. I think that’s the biggest thing, and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. If we’re stuck in our ways or in our heads, we’re playing against ourselves, and that’s no fun. It just takes for us to look at each other in the huddle and say we’re doing it for one another and we’re about to go have fun while doing it.