Players from Team Wilson met with the media following Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game.
Erica Wheeler, Team Wilson
ERICA WHEELER: First off, I just want to say thank you to the WNBA. That’s my number one. The journey has been amazing, and I thank my family for it. I obviously thank my mother for it.
My main goal today, and I told Candice Dupree that I don’t know how I’m going to be unforgettable, but I want to be unforgettable once we play this game, and I think I did that. What do you guys think? So I think I did that, and my main thing is just to be able to inspire the youth to never give up, and I think I’m a walking never-give-up word. If you go in the dictionary and they say never give up, I think they should put Erica Wheeler because of the path I went. That’s all I have to say.
Q. Erica, when you were out there, the first half, your first six shots were all threes, the seventh one looked like it was going down and it didn’t. What was it like for you this whole day, tearing up as they gave you the trophy? What was it like for you emotionally playing in this game and then winning the MVP?
ERICA WHEELER: Honestly, I’ve been speechless. I’ve been trying to gather my words. Even asked my PR guy Kev, I’m super speechless. But just being able to see the ball go in, I’m a real rhythm shooter, so I seen it go in twice, and we always say, if you get hot, keep going, and I think that’s what I did.
Q. I know you said you’re speechless, but can you tell us what was going through your mind when you were announced as the MVP and the journey that you’ve come on and how far you’ve come and having low moments and things like that? What was going through your mind?
ERICA WHEELER: The first thing I said to myself was like, “Mom, thank you,” because more than ever I know she’s watching me, and like I tell everybody, what I do and how I do it, I do it for my mom. So that’s the first thing I said was thank you, and I said, “Thank you, God,” because without him, I’m not here. So that was going through my mind, just to give my mom that praise.
Q. Erica, once they handed you the trophy, it just seemed like a real cathartic moment for you. Can you take us through a moment that wasn’t like that, where you just thought, maybe I should walk away from this?
ERICA WHEELER: I don’t think I had that moment. I’m more of a live in the moment, however it hit me, and I just think I was super emotional. But I wanted to give the crowd at least a little bit of how I’m feeling and what I wanted to say was to my mom.
Q. You had a big embrace with Candice Dupree right afterwards —
ERICA WHEELER: I love Candice.
Q. What did she say to you and what was that like, and furthermore, the support from all of the players on both teams?
ERICA WHEELER: The first thing she said, she was just like, “I always know that you belonged, I always knew it,” and she loved me, and actually I said, “Come out there with me,” and she was like, “No, you’ve got to enjoy this moment on your own because it’s your moment.” I was like, all right, leave me out there by myself. But I appreciate her acknowledging it.
Q. Other players have been in here and all said they were tearing up. We all saw them. What does it mean to have that sort of love from your peers because they know even more than we do how hard this is to do.
ERICA WHEELER: The crazy thing is before we came to the gym, I was talking to Tina Charles, and she was just like, “How does it feel?” And I was like, what’s really important to me is that my peers who I compete with every day, day and night, reach out to me and tell me how proud they are of me and that I belong because everybody got drafted, I didn’t get drafted, so for them to show that respect level is amazing. Credit to them, man, because that takes a big heart to say those things to me, so it’s credit to them.
Q. Talk about the support from your peers, teammates; what about the fans in Las Vegas? Did you realize from yesterday in the Skills Competition, how did that feel and knowing the support, how many Las Vegas WNBA fans know who you are and how many fans you have worldwide?
ERICA WHEELER: Vegas is big. It’s really big. And the crowd in Vegas has always been big, even when we come here and play, so I knew that we would get some love because it’s not just about the Vegas players that’s here. I knew they would show everybody love. For them to give me that love was super important to me. The crowd was crazy. Credit to Vegas for putting on an amazing event because it’s been nothing but great.
Q. Where was your confidence level at going into the game?
ERICA WHEELER: Hmm, I’m real humble, but I’m not going to be humble in this moment right here. (Laughter).
My confidence was through the roof because I had a chip on my shoulder. I knew I was the only undrafted player. I don’t have a shoe contract. I don’t have no contracts besides the WNBA. So for me it was to make my mark, and I think I did that because nobody is looking at me. I’m a no-name. So I think I left today with a name that everybody can remember. My confidence is through the roof. I don’t know how high this roof is, but it’s past this roof. (Laughter).
A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride, Team Wilson
Q. A’ja, what does it mean to win your first All-Star Game as a captain, and for both of you, what does it mean just this whole weekend and you guys hosting it in Vegas and how it’s shown off what the Aces have here?
A’JA WILSON: Yeah, to get my first win as a captain, it’s super special. That was just a huge — we kind of cut it close. We had to make it interesting. But I mean, at the end of the day, I’m so proud off Erica Wheeler. She really made us all so proud. And that goes for her. Like I couldn’t have done it without any of them. I’m glad I drafted them correctly, had a little fun, as well. But the city of Las Vegas really welcomed us this weekend, welcomed everyone, and it was just fun. It was just great energy around the town.
KAYLA McBRIDE: Yeah, so first congratulate Erica Wheeler on her story, and how she got to this point is so powerful. It’s the epitome of what we all fight for, and to have moments like that. So it was really great to see her shine in that moment, and it’s kind of crazy how everything works out and it comes full circle, and I think you saw that today. And then also, city of Las Vegas, they really showed out. We love playing here, along with Liz [Cambage] and Bill [Laimbeer]. They’ve embraced us since day one, and I think this was just a chance for us to really show out and really to get the same treatment that we’ve been getting. Everybody, the fan base has been amazing in this community has embraced us and loved on us no matter what happened, and we’re just trying to give it back to them in any way we can, and today was one of those days.
Q. You guys both — obviously you’re No. 1 and No. 3, really high draft picks, and it seemed like looking out there everybody was getting a little emotional looking at Erica because they know this. Especially as players who know how hard it is to make it in this league, knowing how much harder her journey was it, was it kind of emotional for you guys to see that?
A’JA WILSON: Yeah, I was crying my eyes out. It was just so real. Like it’s moments like that that people don’t really see in our game, and that’s what it’s all about. For those who don’t know her story, I suggest you look her up. She’s someone that we all need to know, and it’s 144 of us, and she’s one of them, and it was just such a powerful, emotional moment. But it was so great to have her kind of feel that, especially with all of the fans around her. Ooh, that’s a believer right there. I’m about to get emotional right now. That’s a child of God right there.
KAYLA McBRIDE: Yeah, definitely. Just to see it all cultivate in one moment. We know what the grind is like. We know what it’s like going overseas. She’s been grinding overseas. I’ve been playing against her since I got into this league, so to see it kind of all cultivate and her have that moment and just kind of get emotional, we all felt that because we know what it’s like to go through stuff, go through injuries, go through adversity, but it doesn’t stop. Like it doesn’t stop. You know, this game is a constant in all of our lives, it’s bigger than basketball sometimes, and for her specifically, with her story, I mean, it’s amazing, and God is definitely working today. He showed up. Yeah, just shout-out to Erica. It’s amazing.
Q. Can either of you talk about obviously with your new adopted hometown here and just at least amongst the media, I don’t know if we know anything what we’re talking about, but a lot of people are saying, man, Vegas should be an annual thing or every other year and stuff like that to host the All-Star Game here. Can you just talk about what the vibe felt like for you, the players? Obviously you play all your home games here, but with All-Star Weekend and the vibe of it and how it compares to previous years being in Vegas?
A’JA WILSON: Yeah, the vibe what you saw. It was electric. It was positive. And I think we should have it here every year. I don’t think I have a say in it, but just the feel of it. Everyone kind of was here. You have players that were not even in the competition at all here to support their teammates. That’s what it’s all about. We’re all coming together and watching a game and playing a game that we love, and I just had so much fun. Granted, I didn’t have to travel far, but it was really nice to just have — like [Kayla McBride] said, have people go through what we go through energy from the fans.
KAYLA McBRIDE: No, I mean, like I said, Vegas has shown us so much love, and this is just kind of a way for us to give it back to women’s basketball, the WNBA, the league. These are All-Stars for a reason. They’ve been the elite in the league, the best women’s professional basketball league in the world. This is the best of the best. I’ve played all over the world, and I’m telling you it’s the best of the best. Just for Vegas to show us that much love and MGM and the league, I mean, it was amazing. Everybody was having a great time. But this is a moment we can kind of sit back and reflect on everything that’s happened and who we are as people and as players and our journeys and just kind of celebrate that, and Vegas has allowed us to do that.
Sylvia Fowles, Team Wilson
Q: How was the Las Vegas All-Star experience for you?
Sylvia Fowles: It was amazing. Definitely one of the best that I’ve attended. They treated us with great hospitality. Everything was fun and it was good to get out there and play with some of the best. I’m happy.
Q: At this point in your career, how do you take in All-Star Weekend?
Sylvia Fowles: It depends on how my body’s feeling at the moment. If I’m feeling beat up, I want a break. But it’s also an honor to be here, so you can’t take it for granted because people want to be here and never make it. Credit to the fans for always believing in us and making sure we do what we do. It’s always an honor to be here so you can never overlook it because you don’t want to take it for granted.
Candice Dupree, Team Wilson
Q: What type of responsibilities does being a veteran in the league add?
Candice Dupree: For me, it’s about these younger players having fun. We had a lot of first-time All-Stars this year and we wanted to make it an enjoyable experience for them. I think everyone did a great job.
Q: Do you as players get to spend time with any of the alumni that are around for the game?
Candice Dupree: I’ve been in the league long enough to have played against those four players that were sitting courtside. I think it’s great that they come back and support. They’ve done a lot for this game as women pioneers.
Q: What are some of the things that shone bright with Wheeler this All-Star game?
Candice Dupree: Those who know her know she is extremely positive all the time. For me, she’s always had my back and vice-versa, so I am extremely happy. She has a great story and I think that story is the reason why she works as hard as she does.
Napheesa Collier, Team Wilson
Q: How was your first All-Star?
Napheesa Collier: It was awesome, this whole experience has been amazing. They’ve done a great job with this and it was really cool to be on the court with everyone.
Q: It looked like your team wanted to get you going, did they clue you in on that? Were there any nerves involved?
Napheesa Collier: Yeah, they wanted to make sure that everyone scored and I was the only that hadn’t yet, so they were trying to get me the ball. I feel like I always have nerves before a game, but it was fun.