Anna Wilson once felt she lived in her famous brother’s shadow. But after moving to Bellevue, she has learned to embrace his fame and create her own identity.
You can see him in her soft brown eyes and engaging smile. You can hear him when she speaks or laughs.
The similarities between the siblings are clear. And the likenesses run far deeper.
The longer you listen to Anna Wilson, the more you detect Russell Wilson’s influence and the shared characteristics that set them apart as athletes and individuals.
Drive, determination, dedication — they come in big doses with the ultracompetitive Wilsons, undoubtedly the most talented brother-sister act in the Seattle area.
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Russell, of course, is the star NFL quarterback trying to take the Seahawks to a third straight Super Bowl.
Anna is a rising basketball standout hoping to help Bellevue High School’s program capture its first Class 3A state championship since 1975 before taking her game to Stanford.
Each is a gigantic fan of the other.
Russell: “She’s one of the most special people I know.”
Anna: “I really look up to my brother.”
“I can see her being president”
Anna, 18, is the youngest of three children born to Tammy Wilson and the late Harrison Wilson III, following Harry, 32; and Russell, 27.
Anna and Russell are especially close, and his presence in Seattle played a significant role in her decision to move with her mom from Richmond, Va., for her senior year of high school.
They are more alike than different, both agree.
“A lot of people think we’re identical, if not identical twins,” Russell said in a phone interview, chuckling. “I can speak about her. She’s so dedicated, she’s committed to her friends and family and she’s just a special, special person. She’s a person who always wants to give back, and that’s what I love about her. There’s no thing she cannot do, and that’s inspiring to watch and be a part of.”
He was impressed with her 5 a.m. shooting sessions during the offseason, along with her commitment to school work.
“Even though she’s only 18 years old, I can see her being the president of the United States one day, just because of her dedication and her intelligence. I could see her playing in the WNBA for a long time and making it in the Hall of Fame and playing in the Olympics … I can see her doing so many special things and just changing the world because of the type of person she is inside and out.”
“They both have big dreams”
Anna, a 5-foot-8 point guard who almost sees eye-to-eye with her 5-11 brother, already earned one gold medal while playing for the 2014 USA Women’s Under-17 team. She averages 17.3 points to go with 4.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 steals for the unbeaten Bellevue Wolverines, who are ranked No. 18 in the nation.
Anna was voted MVP after leading Bellevue to the title in one of the top divisions of the Nike Tournament of Champions. Russell proudly tweeted a picture of her with the trophies.
She received her first scholarship offer in eighth grade (from Maryland) and, yes, she wants to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association — although she has thought about becoming an astronaut, or a journalist. Lately, she’s more into environmental science.
Like Russell, Anna aims high.
“They both have big dreams,” their mom said.
Anna says one of the many traits she and Russell share is the ability to remain poised under pressure.
“We both have this calm before the storm,” Anna said. “My facial expressions are exactly the same whether we’re up by a hundred or we’re down by 20.”
Anna impressed Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer so much she earned a scholarship offer as a sophomore.
“She’s athletic, she’s smart, she has really good point-guard skills and kind of the intuitive point-guard sense,” the veteran coach said. “But so much depends on her work ethic, and one thing she’s had is such a great example with her brother (Russell), watching how hard he works and his commitment and just understanding what it takes to be great.”
Reaching for greatness
Greatness is a goal in the Wilson household, whether it’s in athletics, academics or social responsibility.
Anna has accompanied Russell on his weekly Seattle Children’s hospital visits. She strives to improve herself daily, in basketball and in life. She was drawn to Stanford University because of its high standards, and she raised her own bar academically to make sure she qualified.
“I knew that was the school I needed to go to in terms of if I wanted to be great in everything,” she said.
Anna quickly showed her leadership and competitiveness during basketball tryouts at Bellevue. She wasn’t shy around her new teammates.
“She’d get on her teammates in drills if they weren’t going hard enough,” coach Leah Krautter said. “But the girls really responded to it … They know she sees a future in basketball, so she takes it seriously, but she’s also really funny and likable.”
Anna jokes that one of the differences between her and Russell is that she has a better sense of humor. And she’s better looking, too, she adds with a laugh.
Taking “a leap of faith”
It’s not always easy growing up with a famous older brother. Anna wrote about the challenges in an essay last year as part of her Stanford application:
“Since I could walk, I have lived in a dark space produced by a body that intercepts the light of my personal fulfillment. My brother is the body, but he is not at fault. His fame and accomplishments unintentionally created the dark space composed of the inescapable expectation of onlookers. The dark space is his shadow in which I have lived.”
She wrote how friendships could be challenging — are people only interested in Russell? — about the frustrations of her own successes being trivialized and whispers of favoritism because of who he is.
Yet rather than try to distance herself, Anna moved closer to Russell, leaving the small prep school of Collegiate in Richmond, Va., where he and Harry graduated, for Bellevue.
Russell was a big fan of the move, an idea formulated a year earlier in part to allow Anna to acclimate to the West Coast and prepare for Stanford, but it took awhile to talk their mother into it (their father passed away in 2010).
“There were definitely pros and cons to moving,” Tammy Wilson said. “I probably focused more on the cons, and the kids focused more on the pros.”
Tammy liked the academic support at Collegiate, enjoyed her job as a nursing manager at the University of Virginia and loved their church.
“In the end, I decided I’d take a leap of faith and just do it,” Tammy said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
Russell Wilson days
In some ways, moving closer did shrink the shadow.
Russell was a famous alum at Collegiate, which has just over 1,600 students in 12 grades. The school held Russell Wilson days, when Anna was surrounded by classmates adorned in No. 3 jerseys and walls plastered with life-size cutouts of him.
“He was larger than life and suddenly I was nothing, insignificant,” Anna wrote.
Older brother Harry, a former two-sport athlete who is now a pharmaceutical representative in Louisville, knows it had to be difficult.
“He’s kind of a legend there, although I don’t want to be that dramatic,” Harry said. “Everyone knew she was his sister and expected her to do the same things — live up to this and live up to that.”
Anna has come to terms with having a famous big brother. She has been able to attend the past two Super Bowls and the 2014 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards, where she had a photo taken with Russell and recording artist Pharrell Williams.
Russell is a regular at Bellevue home games, often accompanied by girlfriend Ciara, a recording star and someone Anna considers an older sister.
“It’s really cool that he’s able to come to the games and see me play because I really enjoy watching him play,” she said of watching Russell and the Seahawks.
Bellevue’s basketball games are about her, not him, their mom said. Russell makes his presence felt vocally.
“You can hear him cheering for her,” teammate Quinessa Caylao-Do said.
During the school day, Anna blends in. She rarely hears questions about her big brother.
“They know I’m my own person,” she said, “and Russell is who he is and he’s great and he’s the best older brother you could possibly ask for.”
Living in a shadow
Russell relishes time spent with Anna and mom, their home now just 10 minutes from his Bellevue mansion. Anna usually comes to his house for lunch, and family dinners are frequent.
“Being around my sister, Anna, and my mom, it’s been an awesome experience for me,” he said. “After losing my dad, I really realized how much family really, really is important and just loving on each other and just being there for one another in the good times and the bad and just supporting one another.”
Even before moving here, Anna began escaping that once oppressive shadow. She wrote in her essay that she had an “epiphany” after noticing her niece jumping in and out of an actual shadow on the ground.
“I realized that living in my brother’s shadow is my choice. I have the option whether to live in or out of the dark space created by the onlookers … I am responsible for the successes and failures that I experience. I entertain my own dreams and desires.
“So, in terms of who is living in whose shadow he is beginning to live in mine.”