Take the team with the worst record in the league, give it a new name and a new life in a suddenly sports-crazy city and win as many games as you can. That’s a lot of pressure for a first-year WNBA player, even if she was the No. 1 draft pick.
Of course, the Las Vegas Aces inaugural season was a team effort, but A’ja Wilson exceeded all expectations with her performance on the court—leading the team with 20.7 points and 8 rebounds per game en route to being named the league’s Rookie of the Year—and her growth as a leader and Vegas sports star.
“It can be [difficult] when you don’t even know what direction you’re going in because it’s new to you, but I tried to embrace it,” she says. “Coach Bill [Laimbeer] helps a lot and talks to me almost every day. He wants to speed that process up. It puts a lot on me, but I don’t think it’s anything I can’t handle.”
Wilson’s evolution mirrors that of the Aces, formerly the San Antonio Stars before being purchased by MGM Resorts International in October and moving into a refurbished Mandalay Bay Events Center in time to tip-off in May. It was hectic development to say the least, but Wilson, who reached WNBA All-Star status, and her teammates handled it with poise, narrowly missing a playoff berth.
“I haven’t really had the opportunity to sit back and take it all in, but it’s definitely been a lot of fun and a great experience all around,” she says. “The community welcoming us and just being here in the facilities has been great, and I go to other places and know I’m spoiled.”