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Aces rookies brace for rude awakening in WNBA debuts

Updated May 14, 2024 - 7:12 pm

It’s not every day you hear a star-studded WNBA team serenade two rookies with their own rendition of “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by 1990s singer Vitamin C.

The singing was paired with balloons after the Aces’ practice Monday in honor of former Syracuse guard Dyaisha Fair and ex-Iowa guard and fan favorite Kate Martin earning their college degrees. But the moment also felt like a celebration for making the roster.

Martin told reporters she broke down in tears a few days ago when she learned she made the team.

Fair said she wouldn’t take the opportunity for granted.

“I was so excited. I just felt like a lot of hard work was paying off,” Martin said. “Whenever you come into a team like this, who are back-to-back world champions, you don’t really know what your odds are going to be. So I was really proud of myself.”

But what comes after graduation is often a rude awakening into the real world, and that’s what the two rookies stand to face Tuesday when the team opens its season against the Phoenix Mercury at Michelob Ultra Arena.

‘A whole new world’

All-Star guard Kelsey Plum said WNBA veterans “were trying to kill” her when she entered the league as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017.

She credits veteran Mercury guard Diana Taurasi for welcoming her into the league with an elbow to the stomach. After making impact with Plum’s midsection, Taurasi sank a 3-pointer and winked at the then-rookie, Plum recalled.

Aces coach Becky Hammon sees humor in interactions like that.

“Elbows?” Hammon said Monday with a laugh. “(Taurasi) is going to smile at you while she’s slitting your throat.”

Superstar forward A’ja Wilson doesn’t see a need to advise Fair and Martin about dealing with the physicality or trash-talking in what she said will be “a whole new world” for them.

“You can’t really prepare them for anything,” Wilson said. “This league is one of those things that makes you grow up possession by possession. I feel like we still, even as vets, have ‘welcome to the league’ moments because that’s just how good we are as a league.”

Martin is already somewhat aware of the transition.

“These are grown women. This is their livelihood,” she said. “The physicality, the speed and pace of the game, everything is a lot faster and stronger.”

Fair is self-assured, as her WNBA debut is a dream made possible by the way she used her talent to fight against criticism of her 5-foot-5-inch stature and secure an opportunity.

“I think my confidence, being so small, has to be high,” she said.

Mercury improve roster

The night will be highlighted by the Aces celebrating their second consecutive title with a ring and championship banner ceremony. They then will tip off against a team that made additions in the offseason in hopes of challenging Las Vegas this season.

The Mercury signed point guard Natasha Cloud and All-Star guard Kahleah Copper during free agency. Both have won WNBA championships.

“She pushes the pace,” Wilson said of Cloud. “The (Mercury) organization is pushing their pace up, so I think that addition for them is pretty good. (Kahleah Copper) as well. I feel like they’re going to be a lot quicker than the Mercury we’ve seen.”

The two will join Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, in the lineup Tuesday. Eventually, nine-time All-Star center Brittney Griner will join them, but she will miss the opener because of a left toe fracture.

The Aces will be without one of their best players, too. All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray will miss the game with a left leg injury.

Las Vegas Aces Roster 2024

-Kierstan Bell #1

-Emma Cannon #32

-Alysha Clark #7

-Sydney Colson #51

-Dyaisha Fair #2

-Chelsea Gray #12

-Megan Gustafson #17

-Kate Martin #20

-Kelsey Plum #10

-Kiah Stokes #41

-A’ja Wilson #22

-Jackie Young #0

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

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