The Las Vegas Aces: Driving to the finish
There is no rest in the Women’s National Basketball Association. As late morning gives way to early afternoon on Independence Day, while their fans prepare for barbecues and buy bottle rockets, the Las Vegas Aces drill relentlessly at a high school gymnasium on the city’s west side. The Aces, under the auspices of head coach Bill Laimbeer, are riding a wave of inspiration after a four-game winning streak that could carry them to victory the next night at Mandalay Bay against the Washington Mystics.
Although that game would be called off due to a 7.1-magnitude earthquake earlier in the day, the Aces had several reasons to anticipate the matchup (the game was postponed to July 13, and the Aces prevailed, 85-81). The Mystics led the league in early July, and a victory against them would raise the profile of the Aces considerably. The season rematch also pitted 2018 All-Star players Liz Cambage, Kayla McBride and A’ja Wilson against 2018 All-Star team captain Elena Delle Donne.
Both former WNBA MVP Donne and 2018 Rookie of the Year Wilson scored highest in voting for the 2019 All-Star game, meaning they will face each other as team captains (results were announced July 11). “I just found out yesterday that I was top two in the voting.” said Wilson during a post practice interview in early July. “That’s huge. I can’t even put into words how great that feeling is, knowing that fans from all over were voting my name and my teammates’ names. … It’s early, yes, but I think it’s a huge deal.”
The University of South Carolina standout and three-time SEC Player of the Year was a reserve at last year’s game, but she wound up spending a lot of time on the court. This year, the power forward will serve as captain and could draft a team that could very well include Aces center Cambage, who and shooting guard McBride, who both were named All-Star starters .
Wilson, last year’s No. 1 draft pick, continues an upward trajectory that made her a superstar in the WNBA. Although she was a standout in college, there’s no telling how a basketball player will fare in making the transition from NCAA rules to professional play. Wilson’s foremost priority was being integral to the Aces.
“I definitely thought I was going to be another piece of the puzzle,” said Wilson. “That’s what I am, honestly. Coming in, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know anything. Of course, I knew the game of basketball, but I didn’t know it at this level, of course, because I was a rookie.”
Wilson focused on absorbing everything she could from veteran players and Laimbeer. “I didn’t really think about being an All-Star, or being Rookie of the Year. That was the last thing on my list, because I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here! I just want to play the basketball game as my job.’” That’s exactly what she’s doing, as an All-Star player in the top ranks of the WNBA.
Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas Aces vs. Minnesota Lynx, 3 p.m. July 21; Las Vegas Aces vs. Seattle Storm, 7 p.m. July 23, both starting at $24 plus tax and fee; WNBA All-Star Game, 12:30 p.m. July 27, starting at $30 plus tax and fee. 888.929.7849 AXS