A'ja Wilson unveiled her statue at the University of South Carolina.
The Gamecocks legend and reigning WNBA MVP invoked her late grandmother, Hattie Rakes, through tears during the MLK Day ceremony.
Wilson pointed out that Rakes "couldn't even walk on the grounds of the University of South Carolina" as a child, but now that same campus houses a statue of her granddaughter.
The University of South Carolina has forever immortalized A'ja Wilson on its Columbia, South Carolina, campus - the same campus that her grandmother, Hattie Rakes, was forced to avoid as a kid growing up in the segregated southern state.
Wilson returned to her alma mater on Monday - Martin Luther King Jr. Day - to unveil a statue sculpted in her honor. And as she addressed the masked crowd outside Colonial Life Arena, the Gamecocks legend turned WNBA superstar teared up while wearing her late grandmother's pearls and invoking her memory in her closing remarks.
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"My grandmother, Hattie Rakes, grew up in this area, actually four blocks from the governor's mansion, to be exact," Wilson said. "When she was a child, she couldn't even walk on the grounds of the University of South Carolina. She would have to walk around the campus just to get to where she needed to go."
"If only she was here today to see that the same grounds she had to walk around now is the same grounds that houses a statue of her granddaughter," she added.
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Wilson enjoyed an illustrious four-year career at South Carolina, earning All-America honors each of her final three seasons on campus. She led the Gamecocks to their program's first national championship.
By her senior year, the 6-foot-4 Hopkins, South Carolina, native was the consensus National Player of the Year, winning the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, and Wade Trophy after averaging 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for South Carolina. And she's carried that success into the pros, where she earned MVP honors in the Wubble this season.
After the event wrapped up, Wilson watched as her former coach, Dawn Staley, led the No. 4 Gamecocks past the 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks at home. And during the live broadcast of the game, ESPN's Holly Rowe interviewed Wilson about the "amazing" day and her grandmother's lasting influence.
"Everyone that knows me knows how close my grandmother was to me," Wilson said. "To know that she had to go through all those things is very sad, but at the same time, you look and see they were all planting seeds for us. We have to continue to do the same."
"The message I just want to share with the young Black girls out there is never give up," she added later. "As Black women, we tend to get pushed underneath the rug or just ignored, but at the same time, our voices carry... You can achieve whatever you'd like to. That ceiling is no longer there - we're breaking that ceiling, and we're coming for everyone that's in our way."
Check out full highlights from Monday's celebration below:
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