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Aces star A’ja Wilson named WNBA MVP

Updated September 17, 2020 - 1:49 pm

A’ja Wilson has been a star in the WNBA ever since she was selected No. 1 overall by the Aces in the 2018 draft.

But this season, playing in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, she was the brightest star of them all. On Thursday, the 6-foot-4-inch third-year forward was named the WNBA MVP, receiving 43 of 47 first-place votes for 458 points from a national panel of sports writers and broadcasters.

“This award means a lot,” Wilson said. “This is something where your name goes down in the history book, listed with other greats. This year has already been different and special. I haven’t been campaigning for it. I just said, ‘If it’s for me, it’s for me.’ But to hold that trophy is special.”

The announcement was made on ESPN’s “NBA: The Jump.” Wilson received a $15,450 bonus and a trophy designed by Tiffany & Co.

Wilson said she found out Thursday morning that she had won the award. The players were getting ready for what they were told was a meeting with referees to go over possible changes for the playoffs. But then WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert walked in with the news.

“Truly an unprecedented year. Competitive play at the highest level. You guys led that,” Engelbert said. “But one player rose above the rest. … I am proud to present the WNBA MVP award to A’ja Wilson.”

Wilson’s teammates then began chanting M-V-P.

“I was bawling my eyes out, and my teammates were going crazy,” Wilson said. “I’m so grateful to have my teammates behind me. I wouldn’t be the MVP if it weren’t for my teammates, coaches and so many people behind the scenes. Then, of course, I called my parents, and they were just screaming on the phone.”

Seattle forward Breanna Stewart, the 2018 MVP, received three first-place votes and 308 points to finish second, and Los Angeles forward Candace Parker, a two-time MVP, was third with 219 points. Chicago point guard Courtney Vandersloot received one first-place vote and 135 points for fourth, and Minnesota forward Napheesa Collier was fifth with 36 points.

Players were awarded 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth.

Two other awards also were announced Thursday.

The Aces’ Bill Laimbeer finished second in Coach of the Year balloting with 17 first-place votes. Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve received 25 first-place votes and won the award for the third time.

Lynx guard Crystal Dangerfield was named Rookie of the Year. The second-round draft pick, who averaged 16.2 points and 3.6 assists, became the lowest drafted player to win the award.

Wilson was second in the league in points (20.5), sixth in rebounding (8.5) and first in blocks (2.0). She also shot career highs of 48.0 percent from the field and 78.1 percent on her league-leading 151 free-throw attempts. She added 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

She posted those numbers while embracing her role as the team’s undisputed leader and the Aces’ member on the WNBA Social Justice Council.

“There were points where it was very frustrating for me last year and the year before trying to be a leader,” Wilson said. “Bill saw it in me, and I knew I could do it because I did it at South Carolina. But I just needed it to click, and I wish I could tell you exactly when it did, but it was just through hard work paying off.”

Wilson’s resume is filling up quickly. She places the MVP award alongside the 2018 Rookie of the Year award and all-star nods in her first two seasons.

But there’s still work to be done, and Wilson’s exploits have lifted the Aces to an 18-4 record and No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs. They will begin the best-of-five semifinals Sunday.

Wilson said if the Aces can finish their time in the bubble with a championship, it would be “the icing on the cake and the cherry on top.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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