I was glued to the TV a few months ago, watching ESPN live coverage in the middle of a weekday afternoon, to see a high school basketball player announce a college decision. Not my usual work day. Or even how I'd typically choose to spend a Saturday afternoon.
But this was a big deal.
Because that athlete was a woman. A female high school basketball player. This ESPN coverage felt to me like the official stamp: Women's basketball has arrived.
The player is A'ja Wilson, then ranked the best female high school player in the country. She lives in the same town I live in--Columbia, South Carolina--and when she announced that she would stay here to play for Dawn Staley and the University of South Carolina, I jumped up from my sofa and screamed.
Pretty goofy, I admit. But I was that excited.
When I was a girl, all my basketball heroes were guys. I was a kid when N.C State won a national championship under Coach Norm Sloan with David Thompson flying through the air. I adored Thompson, but my favorite player was the one I could most closely identify with. The short guy. Monte Towe. I wore tube socks like his. I wore a t-shirt with his giant face stretched across it. I once hung around outside the locker room to get his autograph. He was wearing platform shoes. It was, after all, the 70s.
Eventually there were women to admire, women that girls who loved basketball could identify with--Coach Kay Yow, for one. Candace Parker, for another. Maybe it's me and my ignorance--but I can't recall ESPN coverage of a high school girl announcing her college choice. Until A'ja Wilson.
I've been a fan of Gamecock women's basketball for years, buying individual tickets and going to games. Since Staley became coach, a good program has become even more exciting. I cheered last year for her team, sometimes until I was hoarse. The team attracts crowds to their home games. They made it to the Sweet 16. Now Staley's got all those amazing women back, and the poised and talented Wilson, our hometown girl, too.
So this year, I'm going all in. I'm a season ticket holder--and the first game's just a few weeks away.