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Ex-Lady Rebels star explores options after being cut by Mercury

Updated May 21, 2024 - 1:36 pm

Desi-Rae Young took her mom to the Aces’ season-opening win over the Phoenix Mercury as a Mother’s Day gift.

While the former Desert Oasis High School and UNLV basketball star center watched the sold-out game at Michelob Ultra Arena, she was reminded of what could have been.

Young declared for the WNBA draft in April following a four-year career as a Lady Rebel. She went undrafted and signed a training camp contract with the Mercury on April 17. But when camp opened 11 days later, she had already been waived.

Now, the 22-year-old is back in Las Vegas and considering playing overseas as she recovers from a successful meniscus surgery she underwent Friday.

Draft and camp experience

Young looks back on her brief time with the Mercury fondly. She could never remember where the locker room was in Phoenix’s facilities, but thankfully guard Sophie Cunningham showed her the way every time. As she practiced and lifted with the team, she basked in the presence of WNBA legends.

“Being around Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, that was an amazing feeling,” Young said. “These are women that I’ve seen play since I was super young.”

She enjoyed every aspect of the experience, from the apartment she was housed in to the food she was provided.

Griner offered her advice during position breakdowns, and Young describes Mercury coach Nate Tibbetts as a “great, direct and straightforward” leader.

When asked about Young before the Aces’ game with the Mercury, Tibbetts’ answer mirrored Young’s.

“Desi-Rae — wonderful lady,” he said. “Unfortunately it just didn’t work out.”

Young’s knee presented a road block before the start of training camp, and though it’s not made obvious from her accolades, she said she dealt with the injury throughout her illustrious UNLV career.

The two-time Mountain West Player of the Year left UNLV as its second all-time leading scorer with 1,987 points. She’s the program’s leader in double-doubles with 56. She also led the Lady Rebels to three straight NCAA Tournament berths.

Coach-athlete relationship

Young wants to spend as many years playing professionally as she can without having to worry about the condition of her knee. The choice to prioritize her health now means she could need as long as six months to recover from her meniscus repair.

“I played four long, strong, hard years. So now I’m taking a break,” Young said. “I have a lot in store. I just wanted to get back healthy.”

Young, who graduated this month from UNLV with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, knows the waiting period without basketball won’t be easy. She will lean on a strong support system that includes Lady Rebels coach Lindy La Rocque.

“(La Rocque) is definitely another mother to me, my mama coach,” Young said. “She was a great athlete so she understands how hard this really is.”

La Rocque, 32 weeks pregnant with her second child, views Young as part of her family, too. Young’s freshman year was La Rocque’s first as Lady Rebels coach, so the two grew up together.

“I kind of have coined the term ‘don’t mess with Desi’ because anything she puts her mind to, I’m the first supporter to know that it’s going to happen,” La Rocque said. “… Nothing is going to stop her from fulfilling all of her dreams. She’s got a lot more to give.”

Young won’t attend Tuesday’s rematch between the Aces (2-0) and Mercury (1-1) at Michelob Ultra Arena, as she recovers from the surgery. The Aces will be without point guard Chelsea Gray (left lower leg) and forward Kierstan Bell (lower right leg). Griner is out indefinitely with a toe fracture.

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

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