Aces Trio Reflects on Whirlwind Week, WNBA Finals & World Cup
Fighting through fatigue feels different for the trio of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson. They were just celebrating a WNBA Championship together in the streets of Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, Gray, Plum and Wilson lifted the WNBA Championship trophy above their heads on the Las Vegas Strip amidst thousands of Sin City sports fans. A parade marked the end of a historic season following the city’s first ever championship in any professional sport.
“It’s been a lot of fun honestly,” said Wilson, the two-time WNBA MVP. “I’m taking it all in… It’s been fun, it’s been crazy.”
A few days later, Plum and Gray found themselves stepping off a plane in Sydney after a 15-hour flight to join the USA World Cup Team. Wilson arrived later that evening, approx. 18 hours before tip off against China on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re all here together,” said Wilson. “It does help to know you aren’t in it by yourself.”
Plum, Wilson and Gray faced several obstacles to get to Sydney in order to make their World Cup debut. Long travel days, a quick turnaround between getting off a plane and competing, plus the whirlwind that comes along with winning a championship created less than ideal circumstances for playing at an elite level. Nevertheless, the three Aces were effective, showing no signs of jetlag or fatigue in helping the U.S. to a 77-63 win over China, a team that was 2-0 going into the contest.
Wilson was recognized as Player of the Game by leading the USA with 20 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Gray notably earned the USA 12 points and Plum contributed eight.
The trio’s strong performance came despite little preparation. A landmark WNBA season meant that Plum, Gray and Wilson were unable to represent the USA two Group A games against Belgium and Puerto Rico. Plum and Gray were able to make it to Sydney just in time to watch the USA win over Puerto Rico.
“I paid for WiFi on the plane, so they just sent me the playbook,” said Plum. “I had a couple hours to look through it and then I landed, took a little bit of a nap, went to (watch) the game and then worked out.”
Even with little-to-no time between the end of the WNBA Finals and their World Cup premier in Sydney, the opportunity to represent the United States on an international stage remained at the forefront.
“It was like a moment of ‘ahh, back in the USA jersey,' it feels good,” said Gray. “It's another level of putting that on and seeing some familiar faces and not playing against them. Being able to pass them the ball is wonderful. I loved every second of it.”
Despite having a roster of only nine players at the start of the tournament, the USA remains unbeaten at the World Cup. The team is enjoying a rare off day Sunday before resuming group play Monday vs. Korea at 12 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
“We are definitely happy to have them here and definitely happy to have them complete our roster,” said Breanna Stewart. “They are crucial pieces to this team and they make an impact on both ends, which you saw (vs. China).”
Sarah Lounsbury is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.