Las Vegas Aces center A‘ja Wilson (22) tries to defend against Atlanta Dream shooting guard Tiffany Hayes (15) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Vegas Aces guard Moriah Jefferson (5) tries to defend Atlanta Dream guard Alex Bentley (20) during the second half of a WNBA basketball game at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Atlanta Dream star, former Olympian and future hall-of-famer Angel McCoughtry pulled A’ja Wilson aside after Sunday’s WNBA game and shared some words of wisdom with the Aces rookie sensation.
“Take it all in stride. It’s going to be OK,” Wilson remembered. “Just hearing those words from her … it’s special. It kind of made me realize like this isn’t the end.”
It’s only the beginning.
Wilson, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, concluded a stellar rookie season with 21 points and seven rebounds against the Dream on Sunday. She averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and scored in double figures in all 33 games this season to eclipse Candace Parker for the second-most consecutive double-digit scoring games to start a career.
“I’m playing against people that I watched in college, I kind of look up to. They’re defending me and I’m defending them,” she said. “I’m really here. I’m a pro athlete and I’m playing this game.”
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said he was most impressed with Wilson’s consistency, given the expectations bestowed upon her before the start of the season.
She was tasked with turning around the franchise on the floor, and selling it off the floor to a new market and fan base previously devoid of professional basketball.
She did all that, and then some.
“Every night, she came with it,” Laimbeer said. “She came to understand her responsibility to carry the team and carry the franchise — the responsibility to show up every night and go drop 20 and get 10 rebounds. That’s a big burden for anybody, especially for a rookie coming in as the savior, so to speak.”
Wilson said she’s looking forward to having an offseason to add nuances to her skillset. At 6 feet, 4 inches, she’s supremely athletic, and routinely beat defenders off the dribble. She’s proficient from midrange and has a bevy of fakes and spin moves that bamboozled even the savviest of defenders.
“You can come in and have a couple of good games as a rookie. People don’t really know you yet,” Aces guard Kayla McBride said. “But people were scouting her and she was still able to be successful. … I’m looking forward to see what she does and how she gets better in the offseason for us and for next year.”
Sure, she can improve, and she will.
But her teammates and coaches have a sense of how special she is, and how special she’s going to be moving forward.
McCoughtry — and the rest of the WNBA — does, too.
“We can count on her every night,” Laimbeer said. “And that’s only going to get better and better.”
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