Becky Hammon retired from the WNBA as a player in 2014 after a 16-year decorated career. Returning to the league as head coach on Friday, she enjoyed the passion of her players in Las Vegas’ 106-88 victory over Phoenix.
“What made it really cool for me was that I could feel their energy for me. I could feel how much they wanted it for me,” Hammon said of the season opener. Aces as the 26th season of the WNBA began on Friday. “So that was probably the most special thing about it. They know there’s a spotlight, and eventually I have to get out of it and they have to get in. It’s about them. It’s them who stop and bucket there. I’m just there to help them.
Indeed, Hammon’s return to the WNBA after eight years as an NBA assistant in San Antonio put her in the spotlight. And facing a Mercury team lacking four players, including center Brittney Griner, detained in Russia since February, the Aces took full advantage of Hammon’s debut.
Las Vegas shot 58.2 percent from the field, including 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from behind the arc, with Kelsey Plum making five 3-pointers. Dearica Hamby led the way with 24 points, while A’ja Wilson had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Last season, the Aces had the second-best record in the league under coach Bill Laimbeer, but lost to Phoenix in the semifinals. Now Hammon is at the helm of the Aces, and another first-time head coach, Vanessa Nygaard, leads the Mercury.
“Schematically, defensively, I said we got it right about 80% of the time,” said Hammon, who gave the Aces a B-grade overall performance. “I’m a coach, I want it at 100% of the time. I’m going to stick with them. They all know, I told them I’m going to train them hard at that end of the pitch. Offensively, I know their skills will sometimes take over. There’s no need to be fanciful, they can score the ball from the bottom, I give them a lot of confidence in that aspect.
Hamby, who was 11 of 14 from the field, said Hammon’s offensive instruction matched the talent of the Aces well.
“Since day one Becky has been here, she’s been all about 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 ground it creates a lot more opportunities in transition. And defensively we give up. people don’t like to play against that.”
Wilson, who was the 2020 WNBA MVP, said: “Of course we took care of business. It’s just the beginning. We still have a lot to learn from each other. But it’s in progress. done huge, just to get Becky her first win.” The Aces’ home opener is Sunday, when they take on Seattle (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET.)