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Hammon to lean on experience, trust in first year with Aces

Head coach Becky Hammon talks with rookie Khayla Pointer during a preseason game. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

A revolving door of changes has brought about a new era in Las Vegas Aces basketball. At the helm of that change is former WNBA all-star, Becky Hammon.

The No. 25 jersey of Becky Hammon hangs from the rafters at the Michelob Ultra Arena. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

Half of Hammon’s 16-year playing career was spent in the Aces organization when the franchise was in San Antonio.

Last season, she became the first jersey retired by the franchise.

“I’m not just the coach that they see on the floor,” Hammon said. “I can also be that mentor and somebody to bounce things off because I’ve lived life. I’ve got a lot of experiences and I want to share that with them and also give them little tips and pieces of advice that I know helped me.

“I’ve been in the professional arena now for 24 years and I know talent is not enough.”

After retiring from playing, Hammon was named as an assistant to future Hall-of-Fame coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014.

Becky Hammon matches wits with San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

Since taking over for the Aces, a video has gone viral with Hammon listing out what it means to be a professional in her eyes.

“It’s imperative because a winning, championship culture starts in your mind,” Hammon said. “It starts with your approach long before you put a foot on the floor. Championship culture is cultivated in your mind first and then it's carried out through action.”

During the video, Hammon made the argument that being a professional means being proactive in your process among other things.

That energy and effort has been infectious since Hammon came into the building along with new General Manager Natalie Williams.

Upon entry back into the franchise, Hammon made it clear that she’d be willing to take what people deem to be “less talented players” if it means she gets more energy and effort.

“Every job I’ve interviewed for, whether it be for women or men, I want competitiveness,” she said. “Yes I want talent, yes I want length – I want shooting but the number one thing I want is competitiveness. That’s kind of how I lay out our practices, we’re keeping score because competitive people will outwork talented people.”

With that new identity, Hammon is hoping her team gives one impression above all others heading into this upcoming season.

“We’re going to be a competitive group,” she said. “We’ve been preaching about [how] you can't outgive life and you can’t outgive the game. Meaning whatever you put into it – whatever you pour in, the game has given us all back more than we could’ve ever asked for.”

Aces fans of recent years can also expect, as most coaching changes bring, a new system that may look vastly different from years prior.

Guard Chelsea Gray is expected to be at the forefront, along with guards Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, of a much faster-paced offense.

“It’s been great so far,” Gray said. “It’s a totally different system so we’re kind of learning each other all over again which is pretty cool, on-and-off-the-court. From the cooking staff to the players and so learning and understanding what it’s going to look like when we’re out there has been pretty cool.”

San Antonio guard Becky Hammon drives in for a layup against the Seattle Storm. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces.

Gray also touched on the significance of having not only a coach that used to play, as she did last year with former head coach Bill Laimbeer, but a coach who played the same position in the league.

“The conversations are just different,” Gray said. “She sees the game in a different way, point guards always do. It’s a conversation and an understanding there like, ‘I see what you saw there but this is how you get it to be better.’”

With that new mentality from a point guard-minded head coach, the belief that the team will take more three-pointers is almost becoming inevitable.

Even former MVP A’ja Wilson was asked several times about the possibility of her taking more attempts from deep.

“Ah man, y’all heavy on the three-pointers during this media day,” she said. “I don’t know, I’m not going to put a number on it, I just know I’ve been working on it [...] In my mind, I always have the great light. So I’m going to shoot it respectfully in the flow of the offense.”

Wilson will be center stage in a frontcourt that lost four-time WNBA all-star and former scoring champion, Liz Cambage, to the Los Angeles Sparks.

In addition, the team lost veteran forward Angel McCoughtry to the Minnesota Lynx.

“We’re small and it’s crazy to think about that standing at 6’4,” Wilson said. “But we are small in this league. So the biggest thing we’re going to have to do is rebound the basketball and it’s going to take all of us.

“Last year, we would get so used to the Twin Towers blocking the paint, cool, but I think now it’s so much more of a gang and team rebounding.”

Aces star A'ja Wilson speaks with Tashan Reed of The Athletic. Photo Credit: Terrel Emerson

Wilson’s leadership message has been the same the entire off-season and that has been for everyone to be better than they were last year.

“I have so much more that I need to do and I have to understand that I’m still young in this league,” she said. “But my biggest thing is being better than I was last year, no matter what that may be. Yes, I still have that bad taste in my mouth and I’m hoping we can get over this hump.”

Since last season’s crushing game five loss to the Phoenix Mercury, the city of Las Vegas has been treated to some success in other places.

The UNLV Lady Rebels, led by second-year head coach Lindy La Rocque, won both the regular season and conference tournament titles ahead of making their first NCAA Tournament in 20 years.

Team owner Mark Davis’ NFL investment, the Las Vegas Raiders, also saw success this past season, making the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“We know that they are generating big things for us,” Wilson said. “So we just try to do our best to keep that positive energy going. I think people are like, ‘What can we do?’ I’m like, ‘Just come to a game. Trust it. Trust it and know that you’re going to be blown away.”

Former league MVP A'ja Wilson poses during Aces Media Day 2022. Photo Credit: Terrel Emerson

With a collection of talent that many believe could win it all, Hammon believes part of her job is to not over-coach the team as much as it is for her to coach it.

“There’s only so much you can do,” Hammon said. “It’s not about how much I know, it’s about how much they can compete, compute and execute [...] But I think a lot of times, you’ve got to keep it simple, stupid. Sometimes, I don’t have to draw up a magical play, I just need to put the ball in my best player’s hands and go make a play.

“So there’s going to be a level of trust there between player and coach that just always has to be there. I’ve made big shots and I’ve missed big shots, I know how both feel.”

The season tips off Friday, May 6 as Las Vegas will travel to Phoenix to take on the Mercury in a rematch of the 2021 WNBA Semifinals.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the Footprint Center.

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