A’ja Wilson embraces South Carolina roots to make WNBA history

SAITAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 08: A'Ja Wilson #9 of Team United States bites her gold medal during the Women's Basketball medal ceremony on day sixteen of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games at Saitama Super Arena on August 08, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
SAITAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 08: A'Ja Wilson #9 of Team United States bites her gold medal during the Women's Basketball medal ceremony on day sixteen of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games at Saitama Super Arena on August 08, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson talks about her new partnership with Ruffles, how South Carolina shaped her, and who wins 1-on-1 against Breanna Stewart.

When you think about it, A’ja Wilson is the perfect person to roll out Ruffles’ new partnership with the WNBA.

Wilson’s game markets itself. She is in a heated MVP race against Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart. While there are uniquely valuable arguments for each player, most analysts are giving A’ja Wilson the edge. Stewart has done the heavy lifting for the Storm, which is deserving of MVP commendation. But Wilson lifted up her entire team, shifting her role in Becky Hammon’s offense and powering the Las Vegas Aces to the No. 1 seed.

The 26-year-old Wilson has been building to this point ever since she was drafted in 2018. She already won the MVP trophy in 2020, was named WNBA Rookie of the Year, and has been named an All-Star four times. There are more accolades to her name, but defeating the Chicago Sky in her first-ever Commissioner’s Cup win demonstrates how the Aces, and Wilson, are taking over.

But that’s not all A’ja Wilson has been up to this season. She is the first-ever female athlete to have a brand partnership with Ruffles, and she is the one pioneering the company’s move to become the Official Chip of the WNBA. Ruffles, which has long been the Official Chip of the NBA and features LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Jayson Tatum as brand representatives, now adds Wilson to the list. Wilson introduces a new product line, Ruffles Twists, which come in Double Cheddar and her own signature flavor, Smoky BBQ.

Wilson, who considers herself an “unofficial scent expert“, now goes from crafting luxury candles to capturing the distinct flavor of savory South Carolina barbecue (which is infinitely better than North Carolina barbecue, according to Wilson). But more than that, A’ja embodies winning at the highest level and championing the cause, whether it’s building up the South Carolina Gamecocks for their first NCAA championship or leading the way for more partnerships and support of the WNBA and its athletes.

Wilson spoke with FanSided about her MVP-caliber season, who wins a 1-on-1 matchup between herself and Breanna Stewart, and how many Ruffles Twist could fit in Kelsey Plum’s All-Star MVP trophy.

A’ja Wilson speaks to her love of South Carolina basketball, barbecue and competing for WNBA MVP

What’s it like to create a chip with Ruffles?

Oh, it’s super dope. I mean, I feel like we’ve all grown up — I can only speak for myself, but I’ve grown up on Ruffles — and it’s just super cool. And now I know that I have my face on the bag, because I mean, I see Bron and Jay T and AD on it, and now, I’m gonna be up there.

So it’s pretty cool to have this opportunity to know that I’m the first female athlete with a chip deal with Ruffles. And now that it’s the official chip of the W, it feels like all my worlds have collided because I love me a good snack, especially a good chip. So when it comes to my twist, I think it just speaks for itself. It’s different, but also it has a great smoky barbecue taste.

Alright, so we know your flavor is No. 1— that’s just off the table. But can you rank the flavors of the NBA players partnered with Ruffles: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Jason Tatum? 

Yeah, I mean, honestly, I can’t even rank anything that’s below me, you know? I don’t really pay attention to those guys. But if I had to, I would just say Jay T [Flamin’ Hot BBQ], Bron [Flamin’ Hot Cheddar & Sour Cream] and AD [Lime & Jalapeño] because his just has that lime to it, and I just I don’t know about that.

But like I say, anything that’s below me, I really don’t pay attention to it because they should all be trying to catch up with me.

You mentioned that you’re the first female athlete to have this kind of deal, and then now they’re the official chip of the WNBA. What does it say about the growth of the women’s game?

I mean, it speaks for itself. Just knowing that we’re just continuing to grow and knowing that we have great sponsorships like Ruffles that can trust us and see the growth and see the potential that we have within ourselves, to trust us to help grow and experience their branding and also mine as well.

I think the best is yet to come. I’m the first one; I’m not the last. But I’m happy to be the first to make sure that we can be our own selves and have fun while doing it, because I know I had fun doing this Ruffles shoot and everything that’s behind it. I’m excited just to know that the best is yet to come.

Definitely. And you are honestly the perfect person to roll out this kind of thing, especially with the season you’re having and the season your team is having.

We’re gonna come back to chips, but we’ve got to talk about you for a second. Aside from making chips, you now have the most career double-doubles in Las Vegas Aces history, career highs in rebounds, blocks and shooting, and you became the first player in WNBA history to put up 700 points, 300 rebounds and 70 blocks in a season. You’ve had all these incredible stats and records, but what historic feat Are you proudest of the season?

Oh, man. I mean, I’m big on just being better than we were last year. Like I think that’s just super key with just me and knowing that I can actually watch my growth, watch how we’ve grown as a team, and that’s something special. I would just say being the No. 1 seed, considering that people looked at us crazy heading into All-Star break on a losing streak, I think it’s something that’s pretty special and it speaks about our system here in this franchise.

While we’re talking about MVP, your role has changed a bit this season after moving to the 5. What have you enjoyed about playing Becky Hammon’s modernized system?

It’s been a lot of fun. Honestly, I was kind of nervous coming into it because I’m small compared to some of the fives that we have in our league, so I didn’t know if I could hold my own, but it’s definitely been a lot of fun. I love the challenge. I love the competition that we have in our league. Every possession, you’re playing against a great, so at the end of the day, it keeps me on my toes, and I’ve just been having a lot of fun with it.

In the MVP case, one big thing is that you’ve also brought out the best in your team, and it’s been an incredible thing. People are making MVP cases for you and Breanna Stewart, but for different reasons. What do you think are the most important factors when someone is voting for MVP?

I mean, honestly, I don’t even know. [Laughs] I think that’s just something that comes to mind when it comes to whoever is voting in what they feel like is best. I think we all bring something different to our team and to the table.

But at the end of the day, you know, I can only control what I can control, and I’m gonna go out there and be just the best teammate that I can be and provide for my team in whichever way they need night in and night out. No matter what goes on, I’m gonna always be me. I could care less about what people may say or how they try to change me or put me out there. At the end of the day, you get what you get, and I love what I do, and I’m never going to stop. I’m going to continue to grow and build and have fun within myself and also my team.

Definitely. Well, I like the argument in your favor, I will just say that. But I have a little bit of a fun kind of question.

I’ve got to credit Lyndsey D’Arcangelo on this one: she tweeted about what if there was a tie in MVP voting between you and Breanna and you had to settle it in a one-on-one battle… What’s the final score?

What’s the final score? We’re playing ones?

It’s gonna be a good one, but I just…you know what? The competitor in me, I gotta win. [Laughs] It’s gonna definitely be fun to see. I don’t know if we will be able to play it after all that we played throughout the season, but it would definitely be cool. For that, I don’t know if we should look into something like our league, but definitely probably a league to come.

I feel like we have to see this happen, right?

I want to come back to your chip deal involving South Carolina and how much you love it. You changed your program at South Carolina, so much so that they recently honored you with a statue. How did their program change you?

The program changed me just to be a player, but an even better woman. I think Coach Staley really dug down deep and dug into my life and family and knowing how to be in the community and constantly putting yourself out there just so people can know that they can fully achieve their dreams if they put their mind to it.

That program definitely helped grow me as a woman and just how to be around people, because when the basketball stops bouncing, it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, what do you do?’ It’s prepared me for life, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Probably the best decision I made at the age of 16.

I love what you say about Coach Staley because Aliyah Boston actually said the same thing when we spoke to her that she made her a better woman.

Speaking of Aliyah, what excites you when you watch her play?

Oh my goodness! Just the joy that she carries when she plays the game. It’s so effortless. It reminds me of myself in a way. We really don’t care what people may say: we’re still gonna play our game and show out in front of whoever it is. When those big lights come on, we’re gonna be us, and I love that about her. The best is really yet to come for her.

I just continue to — I know she’s probably annoyed — but I’m always in her ear, because I’ve been down that road before. I know how it feels. So I want to make sure that I’m constantly in her ear telling her, “This is how it’s gonna be, but have fun while doing it.” It’s always a joy watching Aliyah play. It’s always a joy having a conversation with her. I’m always in her corner.

Have you already started recruiting her a little bit to pay for the Las Vegas Aces?

I wish, but who knows how these draft picks are gonna go? Fingers crossed she’s too high for us. That means we’re doing good. [Laughs]

That’s a pretty good way to look at it. What battles are you looking forward to in the playoffs, starting with the Phoenix Mercury?

Ooh. I mean, every possession in playoffs is a battle, so I’m looking forward to all of it. I’m looking forward to the highs, the lows, because that’s the beauty of the game. That’s what gets people into it. That’s what gets people locked in.

I’m just excited to be in the playoffs because this was a tough season and you didn’t know where you were going to end. Who knows who may have a big game? I’m just glad to be in the playoffs. And now, it’s time to have some fun. Now the real season starts.

Definitely. A couple of quick questions for you: How many Ruffles Twists could you fit in your Commissioner’s Cup trophy?

At least four bags. Or five.

How many Ruffles Twists could you fit in Kelsey Plum’s All-Star MVP trophy?

You’d have to break a Twist in half and just gently put it — I think the Twist is actually bigger than her trophy.

I love that answer. By the way, I love the team video with the — what drink was that?

It was like an apple sauce packet. [Laughs]

So officially, Kelsey Plum’s trophy is smaller than the Twist. That’s good advertising, right? “Grab A’ja’s chips — they’re bigger than Kelsey’s trophy!”

Since you’re from South Carolina, I have to know: What is your favorite barbecue dish and where can I find it?

Ooh. Okay, so I don’t eat pork like that anymore, but there’s a place in South Carolina that’s called Big T’s BBQ. It’s literally right down the street from my house and from my school. It’s centrally located, so I would have to pass it to get to school or get back home. And they always treat us well there. They’re huge fans of the Gamecocks and their barbecue is the best. So Big T’s BBQ is probably the best — not even probably — the best barbecue in South Carolina.

I live in North Carolina, so you need to settle this debate for me: North Carolina versus South Carolina barbecue. I know you’re partial, so tell me why South Carolina is better. 

It’s South Carolina because we make it with love. North Carolina is up their neck just doing whatever. We make it with love, like we put our whole soul and heart into it. North Carolina ain’t got no soul like that. South Carolina really got it.

Does that also extend to basketball?

Now, that’s completely different! And I’m not getting into that argument because people always come for me when I get into that argument. So I have no comment now.

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