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Becky Hammon begins 1st training camp with Aces

It has been 17 years since Natalie Williams attended a WNBA training camp.

In 2005, the former UCLA basketball star was preparing to play her final season with the Indiana Fever. Now, she gets to help pick a team.

“It does feel like it’s come full circle,” said Williams, the Aces’ general manager.

The Aces began training camp Sunday for the season, the first under coach Becky Hammon and Williams, who was hired April 8. With a healthy mix of veterans and rookies trying to make the roster, Williams expects a competitive camp.

Williams said Hammon’s enthusiasm has been evident, especially as she prepares to install a new system and scheme for the Aces.

“You’re going to see a different Aces team on the floor this year,” said Williams, whose team opens the season May 6 at Phoenix. The home opener is May 8 against Seattle.

While the majority of the Aces’ players began camp Sunday, several won’t arrive until closer to the beginning of the season. Forward Theresa Plaisance, center Kiah Stokes and 2021 first-round draft pick Iliana Rupert will return from playing abroad during the preseason, giving several of the team’s rookies and younger players a chance to prove themselves.

Williams acknowledged the rookies will have a hard time making the roster, especially those selected after the first round. But she thinks the chance to play with proven WNBA veterans during camp will help them understand the dedication required to make a roster, even if it’s not in Las Vegas.

The Aces signed their second undrafted free agent Saturday, bringing in Nancy Mulkey, a 6-foot-9-inch center from the University of Washington.

Her addition means Las Vegas will have eight players with no WNBA experience on its first roster — the Aces’ five draft picks, two undrafted free agents and Rupert, who was selected with the 12th pick in 2021 but spent the summer playing for France at the Tokyo Olympics.

As a former player, Williams knows the pressure her athletes are facing, especially with such limited opportunity in the WNBA. She wants them to embrace the challenge.

“There’s no reason to leave anything on the table, because you have nothing to lose,” she said.

Aces complete staff

Hammon put the finishing touches on her first coaching staff Saturday by hiring assistant Charlene Thomas-Swinson.

A veteran coach with experience in the Southeastern Conference and a previous stint in the WNBA, Thomas-Swinson also has worked with USA Basketball and as a head coach. Her most recent experience came as an assistant for current Aces president Nikki Fargas at Louisiana State.

Thomas-Swinson is the second assistant to join Hammon. The Aces hired Natalie Nakase, a former coach in the Los Angeles Clippers’ organization, in February.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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