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Aces excited to keep core intact after Kelsey Plum’s extension

Aces forward A’ja Wilson, guard Chelsea Gray and coach Becky Hammon didn’t know that guard Kelsey Plum had agreed to a contract extension before Sunday’s game at the Connecticut Sun. Their reactions after hearing the news said enough about what it means to them.

Wilson’s jaw dropped, Gray pounded her fist against the table and Hammon grabbed both of them, unable to contain her smile at the postgame news conference.

“We’re starting to make personal investments — as a team — into each other,” Hammon said. “That’s really what’s going to pay dividends down the road.

“I know, for myself, I’m super thrilled to get everybody back, and happy they want to stay.”

Plum’s two-year extension means the starting five are all under contract through the 2023 season. She is the fourth member of the team to sign a new contract this season, following wing Jackie Young, forward Dearica Hamby and Gray.

Young, Hamby, Gray and Plum are signed through the 2024 season. Wilson signed a two-year extension as a restricted free agent in the offseason that keeps her under contract through 2023.

The five will be on the court Tuesday when the Aces (18-7) host the Atlanta Dream (11-14) at 7 p.m. at Michelob Ultra Arena. The Aces are 3-0 — all three road wins — since the All-Star break.

Gray said the team’s ability to keep the core together will be important for its success. The Aces are focused on winning the franchise’s first championship this season, but hope to build a squad capable of contending for years.

Gray cited the Houston Comets of the late 1990s — led by Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson — and the Minnesota Lynx of the past decade, who featured Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson, as dynasties the Aces hope to emulate.

Gray said she thinks the consistent personnel on those teams helped them win multiple titles.

“You get a familiarity,” Gray said. “You challenge each other. You respect one another. That’s what we’re building here.”

Gray used her nonverbal assist to Hamby during Sunday’s 91-83 win over the Sun as an example of the benefits of playing with the same group for an extended period. She knows where certain players want to catch a pass, which side of a screen teammates want to run around and shooting tendencies.

Gray and Wilson also believe the chemistry the team has developed off the court is equally important. The Aces spent their extra day before Sunday’s game making a video featuring Wilson lip-syncing Gucci Mane’s 2010 hit “I Think I Love Her” while the rest of the team danced in the background. It went viral, with 292,000 views on Twitter and more than 34,000 on TikTok after two days.

“You have a short period of time when you’re going to be playing professional basketball with these women, so you’ve got to enjoy it,” Gray said.

Wilson added: “You’ve got to have fun with it, and I appreciate everyone putting up with that foolishness. We’ll be back with more foolishness.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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