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Aces stars selected for Olympics; ‘no excuse’ for team’s rocky start

Updated June 8, 2024 - 5:25 pm

The Aces’ “Core Four” are headed to the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young will be on the U.S. women’s basketball team at the Paris Games, according to The Associated Press, which confirmed the roster with a person familiar with the decision.

Gray has not played yet this WNBA season after suffering a lower left leg injury during the Finals victory over the New York Liberty last season that gave the Aces back-to-back championships.

Ahead of Friday’s loss to the Seattle Storm, Aces coach Becky Hammon said on the radio broadcast that there was still no timeline for Gray’s return, but she would definitely return before the Olympic break that starts July 18.

The WNBA will pause for nearly a month while some of its players compete in Paris. However, the league’s schedule will still be completed as normal in September, meaning games are played in a tighter time frame.

As the Aces deal with the absence of Gray, a condensed schedule and travel problems, the team maintains that those issues are not an excuse for the team’s 5-3 start.

‘Nobody really cares’

The Aces are short-handed without Gray and reserve Kierstan Bell, who has missed the past seven games because of a lower right leg injury.

Young has made history as she helps fill the Gray-sized gap at point guard for the Aces. Her performance in the team’s road win over the Dallas Wings on Wednesday brought her averages to more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Young is the first player to accomplish such a stretch of seven games since Candace Parker in 2014.

The showing came after Hammon told reporters that Young wasn’t feeling well and might not be able to play against the Wings. Young was so under the weather that she couldn’t warm up that day.

Separately, Wilson came out of the win over the Wings with a bloody scratch on the bridge of her nose and a bruised cut under her eye.

In addition to the physical struggles, the Aces had to cancel practice Friday because of their midnight flight back to Las Vegas. Before facing the Storm, Hammon said Young still wasn’t feeling well, and it showed throughout the subsequent loss, as Seattle limited Young to three points.

The Aces announced Saturday that Young won’t be with the team Sunday because of the illness.

While Wilson got off to a slow start Friday, she said that her discomfort and the late flight shouldn’t be credited for the struggles.

“I mean, (I’m) physically hurting. But at the same time, nobody really cares,” she told reporters. “Fly charter, fly commercial … it doesn’t matter. The work still has to get done on the court. So I don’t really like that excuse. No one gives a damn about us, honestly, and that’s the mentality that we have.”

Charter flight tiers

The Aces went 3-1 in a stretch of sold-out games at Michelob Ultra Arena to start the 2024 campaign.

Opening the season at home allowed them to avoid some of the kinks of the league’s novel initiative for private flights. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press last week that the new program was “a big Rubik’s Cube.”

Before Phoenix defeated the Aces on May 21, guard Sophie Cunningham said the Mercury weren’t given a private flight from to Las Vegas and that the charter flight they were allotted for their return trip was smaller than what was granted to other teams.

“We want to talk about a competitive advantage? Well, that is one right there,” Cunningham said. “Our team has to be split up, and our bags don’t even travel with us.”

Aces forward Alysha Clark offered clarity regarding the differences in the planes when the Aces arrived back in Las Vegas following their road loss to the Atlanta Dream on May 31.

“There’s three tiers of charter flights. There’s the VIP, the Delta Mainline and the regional jets,” Clark said. “Most people have been taking regional jets. And there’s a couple of teams that have taken the VIP.”

Clark confirmed that the Aces’ first road trip was taken on a regional jet without electricity and Wi-Fi, adding that the team takes everything in stride.

“We make anything fun. We make any situation a good situation,” Clark said. “If not, you’re gonna be upset all the time.”

Gold medal attitude

Following the loss to the Storm, Hammon said every team has to push through fatigue and travel issues.

“This is way more mental than anything,” she said. “We have to figure some things out.”

While the Aces attempt to improve, the team has a lot to look forward to. Wilson and Gray won gold medals with the U.S. at the 2020 Olympics, but Plum and Young will join the main U.S. roster for the first time at the Olympics after winning gold in the inaugural 3x3 competition in 2020.

Plum said Friday that she remembers how meaningful it felt to play for Team USA.

“When you put on a United States of America jersey, you really represent so many people. … There’s a pride in that,” she said. “We have a lot of differences today in our society. But at the end of the day, something about that jersey. You got USA on the front, Plum on the back, you’re like, ‘I’m taking no prisoners.’ ”

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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