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Aces’ initiation of rookie Kate Martin part of positive team culture

During a tough climate for some WNBA rookies, Kate Martin is living the dream.

The former Iowa guard often tells reporters that when asked about her experience with the Aces. And in a storybook turn of events, the back-to-back champions have welcomed Martin with an outpouring of kindness that can only be described as reverse hazing.

Martin has been embraced by the whole team, especially veteran forward Alysha Clark, whom Aces coach Becky Hammon repeatedly told Martin to shadow. But if you ask Hammon who else has taken Martin under her wing, she’ll point to superstar A’ja Wilson.

Before Wednesday’s win over the Dallas Wings, Wilson surprised Martin with celebratory gifts for her 24th birthday.

“Who gets the cake? Who goes and gets the tiara? A’ja does all that,” Hammon said. “And it’s incredibly thoughtful and intentional.”

Hammon went on to call Wilson the “best player in the universe,” but added that “how she interacts and carries herself on a daily basis with her teammates” is more important.

Martin agrees. After scoring 12 points in her first professional matchup against former Iowa teammate Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever on May 25, Martin said she is often “in awe” of Wilson on the court. But she has placed more emphasis on the way Wilson has boosted her confidence.

“All I wanted was an opportunity, and to get the chance to be on the best team in the league, with the best vets in the league and the best coaches, I just feel super grateful,” Martin said May 31. “Honestly, I’ve just been having the time of my life, enjoying it so much.”

The Aces have plenty of fun with Martin, and she always seems to be a good sport.

Before the Fever game, the team surrounded Martin for a dance circle in the tunnel as they journeyed to the court.

The team gifted her with a sparkly Hello Kitty “rookie backpack,” presented by Wilson before a May 29 win over the Minnesota Lynx, and Martin wore it proudly.

They also all recorded videos and laughed as the team bus appeared to roll away from a restaurant parking lot without her Tuesday.

Wilson posted the video on Instagram of Martin running toward the team with her hands in the air and a smile on her face.

“Don’t be late to the bus,” Wilson wrote in her caption. Aces guard Jackie Young shared a similar video via Instagram, writing, “Haha Nah, (Martin) thought she got left.”

Before Wednesday’s win, the team surrounded her for light birthday spankings during shootaround. Martin laughed and smiled throughout.

Much of Martin’s story seems like a work of fiction, including her being pulled out of the crowd to walk the stage at the WNBA draft as the Aces’ second-round selection. Hammon has emphasized that Martin’s success isn’t gifted to her.

“She’s earned every minute she is out there. She has earned it in practice. And she has heard in the locker room,” Hammon said. “She’s a high character person, and we value that around here.”

When asked about the ability to incorporate new players into a championship team, Wilson credited Hammon.

“The biggest thing is just the culture that we built here,” Wilson said. “When Becky got here into the gym, it was just about ‘Who do we want to be? What’s our identity?’ and I feel like that trickles down from No. 1 to No. 12 (on the roster).”

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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