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Aces players try to make do inside ‘bubble’

Updated July 24, 2020 - 3:15 pm

Vickie Johnson, who played 15 seasons internationally, is used to spending almost all her time on a basketball court or in her hotel room.

So for Johnson, an assistant coach with the Las Vegas Aces, being in what is commonly referred to as a “bubble” isn’t unfamiliar.

“But everybody speaks English, and you can order whatever you want,” Johnson said. “It’s just weird being in the United States and not having your family and friends around. But overall, it’s been good.”

The Aces and the rest of the WNBA have been practicing and staying the past two weeks at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. They will play their entire season there, with the Aces opening at noon Sunday against the Chicago Sky.

The league moved to a central location because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aces coach Bill Laimbeer laughed when asked what he’s done to occupy the players’ time away from the court.

“You’d have to be here,” Laimbeer said. “There’s nothing to do. The average day for someone like myself and the players is you wake up, if you want to eat breakfast, you go to breakfast, you go back to your room. You go to lunch, you go back to your room. You go to practice, you go back to your room. You go to dinner, you come back to your room.

“They don’t want you hanging out in the lobbies and socializing and hanging out with anybody right now. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do.”

Laimbeer was hopeful the league would create events for the players away from basketball. They could play at the golf course on site, but not many do. Many do go to the pool, but are encouraged to remain at least 6 feet apart from each other.

“But other than that, what is there to do?” Laimbeer asked. “You tell me, and we’ll both know.”

While having a lot of free time is true for Laimbeer, it isn’t the case for the entire team.

Two players, Dearica Hamby and Avery Warley-Talbert, brought their young children with them, and Hamby said the days go fast.

“I think it’s been harder (than at home) because (Amaya’s) 3½ years old and she demands a lot of attention,” Hamby said. “You’ve always got to keep her stimulated, and we’re kind of running out of options here. She gets super irritable at times, and she gets impatient.”

Star A’ja Wilson said her typical day consists of going to rehabilitation, training, eating and testing, not far from what Laimbeer stated.

When she settles into her room at night, Wilson watches the Netflix series “How to Get Away with Murder.”

“I’m really hooked on that show,” Wilson said. “I look up and I’m like, ‘Oh, stop, it’s 2 a.m. I need to go to sleep.’ So that’s pretty much a time killer for me.”

Second-year pro Jackie Young is working on finishing her education at Notre Dame. She is 13½ credit hours shy and recently finished an Italian class and is taking a philosophy course.

“They’re crammed into a short period of time, so I have to do a lot of work during the day,” Young said.

Now that the season is beginning, playing up to three games a week means the players will be much busier.

“This is going to be the hardest championship anybody’s ever won,” veteran Angel McCoughtry said. “There’s so much going on in the world. We’re fighting (racism and a virus). We’re stuck in a bubble where you can be like mentally, ‘Ugh, just get me out of here.’ ”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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