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Aces’ Shakayla Thomas adjusts from post to perimeter

Shakayla Thomas was caught in the middle.

Between college and the WNBA. Between the post and the perimeter.

“In practice, I was more of everything. I was everywhere, and it was kind of hard, like, ‘Where do you want me,’ ” said Thomas, recalling her 2018 experience at the Los Angeles’ Sparks training camp. “I started working on my guard game. … I’ve added that to my arsenal and then it got me here.”

As in the Aces’ training camp.

Thomas, 25, is vying for one of those elusive roster spots, more than three years after she was taken by the Sparks in the second round of the 2018 draft and waived as a tweener with no true position. A three-time All-American at Florida State, the 5-foot-11-inch Thomas has rounded out her perimeter skill set, thereby maximizing her showing in her second WNBA camp.

“We needed people to come in and compete for a spot … and I was pleasantly surprised the first week,” said Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who moved Thomas from the frontcourt to the backcourt. “She’s playing hard. Her shot is better than I thought it was. It doesn’t look real professional or real standard, but it goes in.”

Thomas, who is from Sylacauga, Alabama, was a consensus five-star high school prospect. She began dunking as an 11th grader and overwhelmed opponents with her strength and athleticism, all the way through her senior year at Florida State.

She emerged as one of the best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference in her junior year, averaging 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds. She was even better as a senior, averaging 17.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.

But Thomas did most of damage in the paint, totaling five 3-point attempts during her college career. At her size and without a true perimeter game, she was forced to play professionally abroad and develop her skills. Stints in Israel and France helped her do that, and Thomas said she focused on improving her ball handling and jump shot as she gained a better feel for play on the perimeter.

Her play overseas warranted an invitation to the Aces’ camp.

Thomas said she’s still adjusting to her new role on the wing, but seems comfortable with her play. The Aces have one more preseason scrimmage Saturday against the Sparks, giving her another opportunity to prove herself.

Until then?

“Just bust my butt in practice. Literally every day, every second of every day,” Thomas said. “They say, ‘What you do in practice is going to turn over to the game. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do here.”

Rodgers added to staff

Former Aces guard Sugar Rodgers has joined the team’s coaching staff, joining second-year assistant Tanisha Wright and first-year assistant Vanessa Nygaard on head coach Bill Laimbeer’s staff.

“Sugar has a great deal of experience in our system having played for me for six years, and I expect her transition to coaching will be a smooth one,” Laimbeer said in a statement.

Rodgers played eight WNBA seasons, averaging 7.0 points for the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty and the Aces, for whom she played the past two seasons.

She was an All-Star and the Sixth Woman of the Year in 2017 for the Liberty. She averaged 3.4 points in two years with Las Vegas.

“I’m excited to get started on the next part of my career, and I can’t think of a better place to do it than Las Vegas,” Rodgers said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of what has been, and will continue to be, the best franchise in the WNBA.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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