Aces top Sparks as league opens investigation

D.J. Cabanlong-The Sporting Tribune
The Aces defeated the L.A. Sparks 89-82 on Saturday as news broke that the team's new endorsement deal was under investigation by the league.

LAS VEGAS — It took less than two games, but the Aces are ruffling feathers among WNBA brass once again.

They overcame a career high 29-points from ex-Ace Dearica Hamby, beating the Sparks 89-82 on Saturday afternoon. A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young were the stars of the show for the Aces, with each recording 22 points in a double double. Wilson got hers via the ten rebounds while Young tallied 11 assists to push the Aces to 2-0.

However, news began to filter through social media midgame that the WNBA was opening an investigation into $100,00 endorsement checks given to each player yesterday by the LVCVA in a highly publicized endorsement deal.

Speaking about the investigation, LVCVA CEO Steve Hill told The Sporting Tribune’s Willie G. Ramirez, “We did this the right way. We did something that we think works for Las Vegas and I think great for the players. We did this without the team. It was our idea and any questions they ask they’ll find that out.”

Hammond added: “I’m going to put it to you real simple like this. Most of the sponsorship people go after the top two people. (A’ja’s) taken care of, she’s got plenty of stuff going on. (Kelsey’s) got plenty of stuff. In this situation, from what I understand is, they wanted the whole team. They went and called the individual agents. I don’t know the detail. I have nothing to do with it. The Aces don’t have anything to do with it. It’s just odd, but that’s basically what happened.”

Wilson offered her own perspective, adding: “It’s just another day in the life of the Aces. We can’t ever start just normal. It’s always going to be something, and that’s okay.”

“But when we’re talking about growing the game, when we’re talking about taking that next step, it can’t always be investigate, investigate, investigate. It has to kind of be like, okay, we’re trying to move the needle. We’re trying to make things better for franchises, for players, for teams.”

The Sparks presented a noble challenge for the defending champions, leading by as many as seven points in the first half. Hamby was the driving force for the Sparks against her former team, tallying 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting.

Hamby was traded by the Aces last offseason in a controversial move. The move resulted in Hammon’s suspension for violating the league’s Respect in the Workplace protocol, after Hamby alleged that she was mistreated for being pregnant after the deal went down.

“I don’t know if many people know, but when I got traded, I asked to come to L.A.,” Hamby said. “I believe in this franchise and what they’ve done, and I wanted to play for Curt. I’m just going to show up and do what I can do every night and lead this team.”

Aces rookie Kate Martin got her first WNBA minutes late in the first quarter and surprisingly ended up getting significant run, which is untypical for a rookie in Becky Hammon’s system. Martin recorded her first WNBA assist to former college teammate Megan Gustafson before draining a corner three for her first career points a few minutes later.

“She executed our schemes really well, better than some other people maybe at times that you would expect,” said Hammon. “She plays so hard, her sense of urgency and attention to detail has just really been there the whole time. That’s what jumps out about her, she plays hard and plays smart.”

“She’s a pro right now. That’s the whole statement with her. You know, her habits, her work ethic, the way she sees the game. She’s a great teammate, she does a lot of little things that help you win. And I never call a play for her.”

With Sydney Colson also making an appearance in the first quarter, it appeared early on that Hammon was going with a deep rotation after playing eight players in the first. That ended up being a bit of a pump-fake, as Colson didn’t appear again and only played 1:25 total. Hammon employed a seven woman rotation of Wilson, Young, Martin, Gustafson, Kelsey Plum, Alysha Clark and Kiah Stokes,.

Despite a brutal start from the field, Wilson quickly picked things up down the stretch. She was the engine behind a 17-1 run going into halftime despite shooting just 3-for-10 in the half. Her ability to turn things on a dime was exemplified by her second half shooting performance, as she went 6-for-10 and even got comfortable in the mid range.

“I just like to just do stuff, honestly,” said WIlson. “I love the game. I love working on stuff. I want to see how I can raise an eyebrow, not just for crowd purposes, but for my defender as well. How can I be quicker? How can I get my shot off? How can I get to my spots? When it comes to that, I like to do that because it gets me out of a lot of sticky situations.”

“I don’t want my game to rely on three refs. Absolutely not, then I’m going to be screwed.”