Five Las Vegas Aces players will be in Tokyo to compete in the Olympic Games, four playing for the United States: guards Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young and forward A’ja Wilson. (Center JiSu Park will play for South Korea.)
Gray and Wilson, who just competed in the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas on July 14, join Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and other superstars on the U.S. squad, while Plum will be competing in 3x3 basketball, an Olympic competition for the first time in 2021.
All three women just wrapped strong individual performances during the first half of the WNBA season. One of the league’s top point guards, Gray is in her first year in Las Vegas and has found a rhythm quickly. Plum is playing fast and aggressive after coming back from a career-threatening injury. And Wilson, the league’s reigning MVP, is leading the way, pacing the Aces’ current second-place standing with 19.4 points and 9 rebounds per game. Las Vegas Weekly checked in with the trio heading into the momentous occasion of the Olympic Games.
On Olympic glory: “It’s definitely a goal, but it’s more like a dream-slash-goal. Everybody dreams of being an Olympian and holding a medal up and representing their country and this is just a big honor. It’s the pinnacle. You want to win a championship in the W[NBA], but for this, you’re selected as one of however many to get this huge honor.”
On previous international experience: “It’s a different game, and the way they see and play the game is different, [but] at the end of the day it’s basketball. Going overseas and playing year-round, it’s a lot on our bodies but also a blessing to be able to travel and get paid. I’ve had great experiences overseas.”
On coming together as a team: “It’s going to be a cool process. We’ve been preparing to play against each other, so it will be exciting to have time to [play] together and we’re going to come together quickly. We’ve all been professionals, so we have to learn on the fly a lot, and there are opportunities to pick up on each other just through conversation.”
On the backcourt:“We’re going to have a presence outside and inside, a good balance. Defensively, we’re going to be hard to get by. We have some versatility there, whether it’s me or Sue [Bird] or Diana [Taurasi] bring up the ball, or Skylar [Diggins-Smith]. We have people who can move and have good pace up and down the floor.”
On the Olympic debut of 3x3 basketball: “People don’t have any idea what this is until they watch it, and then they’re hooked. It’s action-packed, high intensity, and it’s just a lot of fun. It’s not a big commitment [to watch], just 10-15 minutes, but it’s absurdly entertaining.”
On coming back from injury:“I feel like I’m in a really good place, and I’m grateful to have such a great team around me. It hasn’t been easy, but the work has been worth it. I really felt the Achilles [injury] would take me out of the Olympics [last year] and all the other opportunities I’ve been striving for, so to be able to get a reset with the pandemic and still have this happen, I feel really grateful.”
On expectations for the Olympic experience:“We don’t know what to expect, but because of COVID, it will probably have a different feel to it. I’m just excited to be there, and whatever they let me do, I’m going to do it. I just want to enjoy it and be present, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
On her Olympic debut: “I’ve been a part of USA Basketball since I was 16 years old, so it’s truly a dream come true to climb that ladder. The Olympics is something everyone grows up watching no matter what, and to be a part of it is something that doesn’t seem real.”
On reuniting with her college coach, Dawn Staley:“When she was named the head coach [for these Games], I was still a junior in college, so to have it come to life for us is a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of conversations about it and her journey from playing as an Olympian to now. It’s a big deal. Her biggest thing was to just have fun with it. She was a flag bearer in the opening ceremonies, and that’s a huge honor. It’s going to look different because of COVID, but you’re still an Olympian. They can’t take that away from you.”
On the team’s style of play:“Anytime I’ve been with USA Basketball, I always try to be the best player I can be, the best teammate and role player, and you’ve just got to bring it no matter what. I don’t know what the style will be, but I guarantee it won’t be the same as we’re all used to. That’s the beauty of it.”
Plus: Two more Aces set to play in Japan’ subhead
JISU PARK - South Korea
Though she is a role player for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, JiSu Park is the leader of a South Korea women’s basketball team that qualified for the Olympics for the first time since 2008.
Park made her debut for the senior national team in 2014, when she was just 17 years old, and has since become the pillar of South Korea women’s hoops. In South Korea’s win over Great Britain at the 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament, the 6-foot, 4-inch center came through in a big way, posting 15 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 assists in the 82-79 victory that punched their ticket to Tokyo.
Park is currently averaging 1.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.9 minutes per game for the Aces.
JACKIE YOUNG - U.S. 3-on-3
A late add to the Team USA roster, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft will team up with Kelsey Plum—the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft—in the newly added 3-on-3 competition. Young is currently enjoying her best season as a pro, averaging 12.6 points, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. –Mike Grimala
Click HERE to subscribe for free to the Weekly Fix, the digital edition of Las Vegas Weekly! Stay up to date with the latest on Las Vegas concerts, shows, restaurants, bars and more, sent directly to your inbox!