Sixth in the league in scoring (20.3 ppg) and third in rebounds per game (8.2 rpg), the production from Las Vegas Aces rookie A’ja Wilson has been exceptional all season long.
In their first season in Las Vegas after relocating (and rebranding) from the San Antonio Stars, the Aces have the ability to double their win totals from the past three seasons in which each have resulted in last-place finishes.
Some can bring up that the hype surrounding the team in its new city has helped revitalize the franchise, while others may attribute the basketball mind of Bill Laimbeer to steering them in the right direction. But what is universally agreed upon, is that the Aces have finally found their franchise centerpiece: A’ja Wilson.
Picked first overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft, Wilson expected to come in right away and showcase her skillset. However, she didn’t expect to see results at this level happen so quickly.
“I think (my skillset) has transitioned well. I can’t say I was expecting to be producing at the level I am so soon, but there are always those bumps in the road. I am getting through the ups and the downs, and continuing to only have one thing on my mind when I am out there playing: have fun,” Wilson said.
As the only rookie to be selected to Verizon WNBA All-Star 2018, she showed us she likes to have fun.
This year the All-Star format was changed from the traditional East vs. West matchup to having two captains (Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne) pick teams from the remaining All-Star selections.
Growing up, Wilson idolized Delle Donne. Her versatility and the way she carried herself always impressed Wilson. When she found out EDD had selected her to Team Delle Donne, it was a surreal moment.
“I just thought, ‘Damn, she actually picked me!’ That is exactly what I said, and I think I looked at my teammates after that, and I remember thinking, ‘Good Lord this team is nice,’” said Wilson. “I was just so excited to be able to play with Kayla (McBride) again, and was really impressed with the team that Elena had picked, and for her to pick me was such a great feeling.”
When asked about what went into the All-Star selections and why she chose Wilson, Delle Donne had high praise for the rookie.
“Her versatility and ability to be able to attack from so many different angles, and every single night the defense is geared toward stopping her and nobody in the league has really been able to do that,” Delle Donne said.
Wilson finished the game with 18 points and five rebounds, though her Team Delle Donne squad came up short to Team Parker 119-112. However, for Wilson, it wasn’t about winning the game.
Her mindset stays consistent regardless of the day or circumstance.
“My first All-Star experience was epic.”
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 29, 2018
“It was a lot of fun. I wanted to really capitalize on the moment. To be surrounded by future Hall of Famers, and the best players around our league who are helping our league grow each and every year, was such a great experience to add to it just being my first ever All-Star,” she said. “I just went out there with nothing on my mind besides have fun.”
Now that the All-Star weekend has passed, for Wilson and her Aces, it is back to business.
The WNBA has entered the crucially important stages of the season. With seven teams already having punched their ticket into the playoffs, there is just one remaining spot. Any win or loss at this point can prove to have huge implications.
“We just have to keep pushing through everything, and give it our all for 40 minutes. If we keep consistently doing that it will really help us,” Wilson said.
Delle Donne commented on just how tight the playoff race has been around the league this year.
“It is pretty nuts. The parity in the league is awesome to see. I think it speaks on how talented the rookies are that have been continuing to come through and that the league continues to get better,” Delle Donne said.
If the Aces do in fact make it to the playoffs this season, it will be one of the better comeback stories the WNBA has seen from a franchise in several years. If they fall just short, the foundation that is being built in Las Vegas will not go unnoticed.
“They (Aces) have a career-great on their hands, there is no doubt in my mind,” said Delle Donne.
Coming from one of the best superstars the WNBA has to offer – not to mention an idol for Wilson growing up – that is praise that the Aces rookie won’t take for granted.