A packed arena full of fans, loud screams and chants, the buzzers sounding off. . . this may seem like a by-gone memory to many basketball fans since the pandemic shut down live sports. Yet, it was announced on June 15, women’s professional basketball is returning soon. And yes, your own house has become the new arena, and you might be conducting your own solo chants, but those buzzers will return as the Las Vegas Aces season begins.
But, do you remember the last buzzer you heard at an Aces game? It was the solemn sound of a final buzzer that eliminated the Aces from the semi-finals and ousted their chances of a WNBA championship after such a promising campaign. Instead, the team went into the offseason earlier than anticipated and watched the Washington Mystics win the championship trophy.
Most players expect that when the offseason comes that there is a promise of a fresh start just on the horizon a few months away. But, unfortunately, this offseason was nothing like any player witnessed before. Marred by the spread of Covid-19 throughout the country, the Aces, like all other WNBA and sports teams around the world, were sidelined as leagues have attempted to figure out how to return to “sports as usual” (or something resembling it).
Yet, it was not just the impact of the pandemic which has rocked the Vegas Aces this offseason. In June, it was announced that former #1 pick, Kelsey Plum, the talented guard and floor general for the Aces, would be out for the season due to an Achilles tendon injury. In last year’s WNBA playoffs, Plum averaged just over 15 points and 7 assists per game. This was yet another blow to the fragile 2020 season.
And more recently, dynamic center and vocal team leader, Liz Cambage opted out of this season and will remain in Australia
So, where does this leave the Aces in 2020? First and foremost, the weight of the absences of Cambage and Plum will largely fall on the capable shoulders of A’ja Wilson. Wilson is a commendable force both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. She was top five in the league last season in blocks. The former Rookie of the Year averaged 16.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. With a field goal percentage just shy of 50%, she will be the Aces #1 target. If she continues her trajectory, the absence of Cambage in the middle will not be felt as strongly.
Further, in light of Plum’s injury, the Aces still have ample guards to fill in the gaps. Kayla McBride, in particular, could continue to shine. McBride is a well-seasoned veteran of the league at this point. She brings experience and also agile, sharpshooting expertise. Last season, McBride averaged nearly 43% from behind the arc. Additionally, if there ever was a vet to rely on at both the forward and guard positions, the Aces have it in Angel McCoughtry. With a decade of experience in the league, McCoughtry gives the team the mental fortitude it will need to enter this unique season in the absence of a couple of its key members.
Moving forward, IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, is the official location of the 2020 WNBA Season, which includes 22-regular season games. Similar to the NBA protocols, this site will be used for everything from housing to training camp. The season begins on July 25, and the Aces host their first game on July 26 against the Chicago Sky.
This year’s WNBA season will prove to be a sprint to the finish as some of the Aces most challenging match-ups are scheduled for late August and early September (including two games against the recent champions, Seattle, and games against Minnesota and Los Angeles to close out the regular season).
Can the Aces’ dynamic Coach Bill Laimbeer have his team poised to make another run for a WNBA championship? Regardless of the outcome, the buzzers will sound, you’ll be chanting from your home, and other Aces fans – like you – will be ready for some live, WNBA action to finally start!