Las Vegas Aces center A’Ja Wilson has been named the Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press after a dominant first season in the WNBA. The South Carolina product tallied arguably the greatest rookie season in league history in the Aces’ inaugural season here in Las Vegas.
The first-year superstar not only dominated the headlines, but also the social commentary this season, whether it was regarding pay equality or the asinine WNBA travel policy. Wilson, who was recently named the SEC Female Athlete of the Year for 2017-18. She averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.8 steals per game with a 46.2 percent shooting percentage.
“Every night, she came with it,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said this past weekend. “She came to understand her responsibility to carry the team and carry the franchise — the responsibility to show up every night and go drop 20 and get 10 rebounds. That’s a big burden for anybody, especially for a rookie coming in as the savior, so to speak.”
Face of the franchise
As the face of Las Vegas’s newest ‘major league sport,’ Wilson dominated her opponents. She helped lead the team 14 wins this season. The squad won just eight games last year before being relocated to Vegas from San Antonio in the offseason. Despite the struggles, the Aces still came just one game from a playoff berth.
In fact, the Aces would’ve more than likely made the postseason had the WNBA not cowardly forced the Aces to forfeit their game at Washington after a 26-hour flight delay resulted in the team landing mere hours before tip-off after being stranded in an airport terminal for more than an entire day.
Despite the terrible call by the WNBA higher-ups (who may or may not have used the game as an excuse to punish Wilson and the Aces for speaking up against the dumb travel policy), Wilson went to work down the stretch. The center scored 21 points in the season finale this past Sunday.
Looking to 2019 and beyond
The gifted 22-year-old will return as the face of the franchise, and probably the WNBA. With a young team, the Aces should enter 2019 as contenders in the offseason. Most importantly, their failure to make the postseason should secure them strong odds in the 2019 WNBA lottery prior to the draft.
“I’m blessed to be able to grow with them,” she told The Post and Courier early in the season. “We’re at a place where we can write our own book and tell our own story.”
Already an All-Star, the selection was almost a formality as she dominated the Rookie of the Month honors, as well as a spot as a WNBA all-star. The spotlight will only grow, especially when Las Vegas hosts the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game next year. Wilson teamed with fellow Aces standout Kayla McBride and a strong core. The Aces are a strong bet to reach the playoffs and make a run at the WNBA title in 2019.
The four-time All-American forward closed the 2018 season in front of 5,737 fans this past Sunday. She will return in 2019, along with McBride (18.2 ppg), and second-year player Kelsey Plum (9.5 ppg),.
“I told (the players) after the game to be proud of this year. It was a great year for the Las Vegas Aces,” Laimbeer said after Sunday’s season finale. “We launched a franchise. We competed and showed who we were both individually and collectively. And our franchise and fans got to come out and enjoy a great product and great support.”