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Inside The W With Michelle Smith: 2019 WNBA All-Star Game Preview

Let’s face it: it’s difficult to imagine a WNBA All-Star Game without Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart or Candace Parker.

In a season when many of the game’s biggest stars are sitting out the annual mid-season showcase, new stars have emerged and with them have come new storylines.

There are plenty of interesting stories left in this eclectic group of talented players, who will take the court for the league’s first ever All-Star game in Las Vegas.

Making history. Indiana guard Erica Wheeler is only the fifth undrafted player in league history to be named to the All-Star team. She joins Becky Hammon, Erika de Souza, DeMya Walker and Anna DeForge. Each of those players made their WNBA debuts in 2002. Since 2003, no undrafted player has come into the league and made it on to an All-Star roster.

Wheeler said Thursday that making the All-Star team was never on her list of personal goals.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “My goal this season was to average 12 points and seven assists. My goal was to be consistent, that was really my bigger goal for the season. If I did that, I felt like something big would happen. Maybe I’d be Most Improved or something like that.”

Big things have already happened for the Florida native. In less than five seasons, she has reached 1,000 points and 500 assists. Her compelling personal story, which includes the loss of her mother to cancer in her junior year of college at Rutgers, has brought her attention from both the media and other players.

Her play  – she is averaging a career-high 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game – has earned her respect.

“People respect me enough to make me an All-Star,” Wheeler said. “People hear my story and they have embraced me different. They let me know I belong. However I got here, I belong.”

But even after this weekend’s experience, Wheeler knows she will still play with the chip on her shoulder that comes with being an undrafted player in the WNBA.

“At the end of the day, nobody is guaranteed a spot in this league. I could get traded, I could get cut, I’m never comfortable,” Wheeler said. “Things can change in a second and that keeps me on my toes and it keeps pushing me. I can’t let up today, no matter what I’m going through. But this shows I’m doing the right things.”

The First Timers. Wheeler joins a group of six first-time All-Stars, including Minnesota’s Odyssey Sims and Napheesa Collier, Chicago’s Diamond DeShields, Seattle’s Natasha Howard, and New York’s Kia Nurse. Five of them are playing on Team Wilson. Nurse is the only one on Team Delle Donne. It will be fun to see how all of these All-Star rookies perform in their first experience.

Opposites Attract. Chicago’s married backcourt duo of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley find themselves on opposing teams in this game. Let the marital trash-talking begin.

“She’s not scoring,” Vandersloot joked after the Sky’s game on Sunday.

Quigley countered. “There’s no defense in the All-Star game.” Looks like we will see about that.

In fact, they aren’t even the only married couple on opposite sides in this game. Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner and Indiana’s Candice Dupree, with nine All-Star honors between them, will compete for household bragging rights as well.

Getting Experimental. The WNBA will introduce some experimental rules to Saturday’s game, including a 20-second shot clock, which should fit right in with an All-Star level pace of play – fast and furious.  There’s the hockey-style live substitution on offense, where each team is allowed to have a player sub in on offense once per quarter from a check-in spot near midcourt.

The Rook. Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier got the call to join the 2019 All-Stars due to an ankle injury that will keep A’ja Wilson sidelined. Collier is the only rookie on the floor in this game and also joined Sims in Friday’s Skills’ Challenge. Collier also made history as the first player traded in All-Star game history, as captain Elena Delle Donne traded her to Team Wilson to allow her to play with teammates Sylvia Fowles and Sims.

The Randoms. Kia Nurse becomes the first Canadian-born player to be a WNBA All-Star…This will also be the first All-Star game in WNBA history not to include a player coached by the legendary Pat Summitt.