After a remarkable 16-year career as a player, Becky Hammon retired from the WNBA in 2014. She praised her players’ passion in Las Vegas’ 106-88 victory over Phoenix on her return to the league as a head coach on Friday.
“What made it really cool for me is I could feel their energy for me. I could feel how bad they wanted it for me.” As the WNBA’s 26th season began on Friday, Hammon remarked of the Aces’ season opener, “So that was probably the most special thing about it. They know there’s a spotlight, and eventually, I’ve gotta move out of it and they’ve gotta move into it. It’s about them. They’re the ones getting stops and buckets out there. I’m just there to help them.”
After eight years as an NBA assistant in San Antonio, Hammon’s return to the WNBA has put her in the spotlight. The Aces took full advantage of Hammon’s debut against a Mercury squad that was missing four players, including centre Brittney Griner, who has been jailed in Russia since February.
Kelsey Plum made five 3-pointers as Las Vegas shot 58.2 percent from the field, including 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from beyond the arc. A’ja Wilson had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Dearica Hamby led the team with 24 points.
Coach Bill Laimbeer led the Aces to the league’s second-best record last season, but they were eliminated in the semifinals by Phoenix. Now, the Aces are led by Hammon, while the Mercury are led by Vanessa Nygaard, a first-time head coach.
“Schematically, defensively, I’d said we did it right about 80 percent of the time,” Hammon said, giving the Aces a B for their overall effort. “I’m a coach, I want it 100 percent of the time. I’ll stay on them. They all know, I’ve told them I’m going to coach them hard on that end of the floor. Offensively, I know their skills at times will just take over. There’s no need to get fancy; they can flat-out score the ball. I give them a lot of trust in that aspect.”
Hamby, who shot 11 of 14 from the field, believes Hammon’s offensive philosophy is a good fit for the Aces’ potential.
“Since the first day Becky has been here, her emphasis has been pace and space,” Hamby said. “For me, that’s how I play. We’ve always been a good transition team. But I think with this open floor, it creates a lot more opportunities in transition. And defensively, we’re scrapping. People don’t like to play against that.”
Wilson, the WNBA’s MVP in 2020, stated: “For sure we took care of business. This is just the beginning. We still have a lot to learn from one another. But this is actually huge, just to get Becky her first win.” The Aces will play Seattle in their home opener on Sunday.