The house may not always win, but A’ja Wilson did everything in her power to make sure her team will have some hometown flavor, as the Las Vegas Aces will be well-represented and playing as teammates in Saturday’s All-Star game at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Wilson herself is unable to play in the league’s showcase event due to a sprained ankle. But she and Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne displayed their personnel skills and philosophies Tuesday night in drafting their respective 11-woman teams from among the league’s best.
The duo swapped coaches after the draft, which made sense. Since Delle Donne was the top overall vote-getter, she would have played for Aces coach Bill Laimbeer since Las Vegas had the best record in the WNBA at the July 12 cutoff.
Instead, Delle Donne will have her coach – Mike Thibault – as the Mystics had the second-best record. Delle Donne and Wilson also worked out one player trade, with New York Liberty center and seven-time All-Star Tina Charles joining Team Delle Donne in exchange for Minnesota Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier, who was added to the reserves by new WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert to fill Wilson’s spot.
Delle Donne took Phoenix Mercury center and the league’s leading scorer Brittney Griner with the first overall pick, followed by Wilson selecting Chelsea Gray from the Los Angeles Sparks after the Mystics star “allowed” Wilson to keep teammates Liz Cambage and Kayla McBride together.
“Who’s not going to party the hardest is who’s going to win this game,” Delle Donne told The Associated Press, taking a playful dig at Cambage – who will DJ at the All-Star Beach Party on Friday night that will also feature rap superstar Snoop Dogg along with pop star and fellow Aussie Iggy Azalea. “If you have partiers on your side, you’re done.”
Team Delle Donne’s starting five features plenty of size with the 6-foot-8 Griner, 6-5 Delle Donne, and 6-6 Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun to go with the backcourt pairing of 6-foot Kia Nurse and 5-10 guard Jewell Loyd.
Team Wilson counters with Gray, Cambage, McBride and Seattle Storm forward Natasha Howard plus Laimbeer’s choice to round out the starting five. There is almost a 50-50 chance that fifth player will come from the Minnesota Lynx, as all three of their All-Stars – Collier, veteran forward Sylvia Fowles, and point guard Odyssey Sims – are all on Team Wilson.
“I think we’ve got a good squad. I think my squad is the better squad. I’m being super biased,” Wilson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Delle Donne selected three sets of teammates – Griner and DeWanna Bonner; Jones and Alyssa Thomas and Charles and Nurse along with fellow Mystics guard Kristi Toliver. Three sets of teammates were separated as Seattle’s Loyd and Howard will start on opposing teams, while Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks will come off the bench for Team Delle Donne and Gray starts for Team Wilson.
The Chicago Sky’s three representatives were the other group split up, as Delle Donne selected point guard Courtney Vandersloot after Wilson tabbed Diamond DeShields and Vandersloot’s wife Allie Quigley with back-to-back selections. In a quirky outcome, the partners of the WNBA’s two current married couples are on opposing teams, as Bonner is teammates with Vandersloot and Dupree is on Team Wilson.
Quigley failed to win the 3-point shootout for a third straight year as Connecticut’s Shekinna Stricklen defeated McBride in the final.
On paper, the matchup looks to be one of All-Star experience versus the young guns as Delle Donne’s team has a collective 40 All-Star appearances among the roster. Team Wilson sports five of the six first-time All-Stars making the trip to Las Vegas and has 32 appearances combined. Collier is the first Lynx rookie to make the All-Star team since Maya Moore in 2011.
(Elena Delle Donne/A’ja Wilson photo courtesy YouTube screencap)