Alums in the Pros Give Pep Talks to College Teams

  • The NCAA women’s Final Four is set to tip off Friday at Minneapolis’ Target Center.
  • WNBA stars — some of whom are alums of Final Four teams — are at USA Basketball camp, also in Minneapolis.
  • Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, and Angel McCoughtry offered advice to their college teams before the semifinals.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Final Four is here.

And a handful of top WNBA players, who are in town for USA Basketball camp, will be on-site for the action.

A select few of those stars will watch as their alma maters compete on college basketball’s biggest stage. Angel McCoughtry, Breanna Stewart, and A’ja Wilson all have serious rooting interests in Friday night’s blockbuster matchups, and all three offered advice to their college teams ahead of the national semifinals.

“Honestly, why not?” McCoughtry told Insider. “I’ve been there, done that before, so a good pep talk will never hurt.”

Angel McCoughtry grabs a rebound for Louisville during the 2009 national championship game.

McCoughtry grabs a rebound for Louisville during the 2009 national championship game.

AP Photo/Lynn Sladky


A five-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, McCoughtry enjoyed a standout four-year career with the Louisville Cardinals in the mid-2000s. She led the program to its first-ever Final Four appearance in 2009, her senior year, but Louisville fell to an undefeated UConn Huskies squad in the national championship game.

McCoughtry’s overarching message to the 2022 squad was that the Final Four “is something that a lot of people won’t experience,” so the players should “enjoy this moment and really just embrace it no matter what the outcome is.”

Though the Cardinals earned one of the highly coveted No. 1 seeds in this year’s tournament, they face a tough road to the national championship game with a matchup against Dawn Staley’s two-loss South Carolina Gamecocks awaiting them in the Final Four.

South Carolina players huddle during their Round of 32 game of this year's NCAA tournament.

South Carolina players huddle during their Round of 32 game of this year’s NCAA tournament.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports


But A’ja Wilson, a 2017 national champion and Final Four Most Outstanding Player under Staley, isn’t too worried about her Gamecocks as they approach Friday night’s game.

“I mean, I got South Carolina no matter what,” Wilson told Insider. “I don’t know what a matchup is — South Carolina’s already there. There’s no matchup.”

“I’m not afraid to say that,” she added. “I don’t even know — who are we playing? I don’t know. It’s South Carolina versus them.”

A'ja Wilson celebrates winning the national championship with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Wilson celebrates winning the 2018 national championship with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey


Though Wilson considered going to speak with this year’s team ahead of the upcoming games, she admitted that she “used to hate when former players would come back and try to talk.” She feels that every year is different, and that unless she’s able to score another year of eligbility to go out on the court with this year’s team, she can’t really speak to what they’re going through.

But the 2020 WNBA MVP found a compromise she was comfortable with. Wilson and Gamecocks teammate Allisha Gray — who is also at USA Basketball camp this week — took a trip to South Carolina’s hotel and “sat in on a film session” with the team.

“They seemed like they were ready,” Wilson said. “They seemed like they were just who they are, and that’s the beauty of it. Coach always says, ‘Not too high with your highs, not too low with your lows,’ and they seem ready.”

“So I’m excited for ’em,” she added. “I’m glad I can be there.”

A'ja Wilson and Allisha Gray with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Wilson (left) and Allisha Gray with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

AP Photo/Sean Rayford


Another big-name alum — UConn legend Breanna Stewart — expressed confidence in her alma mater, despite the Huskies’ underdog status heading into Friday night’s game against the Stanford Cardinal. As a player who won an unprecedented four national championships and four Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards over her UConn tenure, Stewart knows better than anyone what it takes to break through under college basketball’s brightest lights.

When she joined this year’s Huskies squad for dinner Wednesday night, she offered some simple advice to Geno Auriemma’s team.

“Play hard, have fun, get the W — that’s what I said,” Stewart told Insider. “I’m like, get the win. Like, let’s just do it. Let’s not think about it anymore. The past is the past. This is their team, and it’s their time.”

breanna stewart geno

Stewart (left) speaks to UConn head coach Geno Auriemma during a Huskies game.

AP Photo/Jessica Hill


Though UConn has made it to a whopping 14 consecutive Final Fours as a program, the Huskies haven’t won a national title since Stewart’s final season in Storrs. The two-time WNBA champion attributes that to “a lot of variables,” including COVID-19 and increasing parity in the women’s game, but she admits that “it is crazy” to think that she was at the center of UConn’s last championship team.

Stewart, however, insists that any pressure for this year’s Huskies to break the dry spell — by UConn standards, anyway — is “just on the outside.”

“When they’re with the team and they’re really focused, they know what they want to do,” Stewart said. “They know they want to win just like every other team. And now it’s just about going out and doing it and all of the hard work that they put in all season, the summertime, learning from the previous Final Fours.”

Geno Auriemma and the UConn Huskies celebrate winning the 2022 Big East tournament.

Auriemma with this year’s UConn Huskies.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports


“They’re there to be their best and show up in the biggest moments,” she added. “And this is the biggest moment.”

South Carolina-Louisville tips off at 7 p.m. ET Friday night, with Stanford-UConn following shortly thereafter at 9:30 p.m. Fans can watch all the action unfold on ESPN — and maybe they’ll even catch a glimpse of McCoughtry, Wilson, and Stewart cheering on their teams from the stands inside the Target Center.

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