August 4, 2023 

The Aces’ bench has helped cook up the perfect chemistry

Las Vegas has an abundance of talent but one of the biggest reasons for their success has been the chemistry of their roster.

To win a championship, a lot of things have to go right for a franchise. You need great players, a strong coaching staff, and probably some injury luck to break your way as well. Many teams have had a lot of these things and still have never won a championship, usually because they are missing a final key ingredient. That last ingredient, which can go under the radar but may be the most important, is team chemistry. For the Las Vegas Aces, the chemistry on last year’s championship team was very high. This year, as they look to repeat, it may be even higher.

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Chemistry is probably the hardest thing to quantify when putting together a roster. You can do all the research you want on a player, but how they fit with your team can be a mystery. For the Aces, it has started with their core four of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young, who have played together for two and a half seasons now.

They have added other pieces to supplement the team, but it has been those four that have been the driving engine for the franchise. Beyond the obvious basketball skills, the core is filled with great personalities that are easy to get along with.

“Man, I love my teammates,” said Wilson. “I love them through and through. Those are my sisters. I wouldn’t want to go to war with anyone else. And, I mean, the record is a reflection of who we are and what we stand for. And we just like to have fun while doing it. And we’re just so competitive and we’re locked in and I love the feeling that we have in our locker room.

“It’s a great feeling to be around. I love coming to work every single day and I’m going to the wheels fall off when it comes to my teammates. and I feel like they’ll do the same for me. So, I think that energy when you walk into a gym, when you walk into our locker room, you feel it. It’s just being reciprocated. and then it just goes down the line from one to 11 and I just think that that’s a big key into how we are and who we are now.”

The chemistry for the Aces starts with their bench. The Aces last year didn’t have a ton of depth, regularly playing a seven-player rotation. With the offseason additions of Candace Parker and Alysha Clark, the thought was the Aces rotation would grow to eight or possibly nine players. However, injuries and off-the-court issues have shrunk the rotation back to seven. Even though most of the Aces’ bench players don’t get a lot of minutes, they thrive at bringing energy to their teammates.

A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum celebrate a play in the Aces road game at Minnesota on July 22. Photo Credit: John McClellan/The Next

There is no dispute as to where the energy for the Aces bench starts: Sydney Colson. Colson is one of the most energetic people in the WNBA. She always has a smile on her face and is constantly cheering on her teammates. However, Colson is much more than a cheerleader. Her experience in the league allows her to see things from the bench and is constantly talking to the guards on the floor.

“Syd is like the glue of this team,” Plum said. “She’ll never get enough credit for what she does. Not just in games, but in practices. She just brings a vet presence. She has a lot of experience in this league. And so, she’s someone that is always communicating, always talking in timeouts. Offensively defensively, just always like kind of being an extra set of eyes.”

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Another member of the Aces bench who has seen their role grow from last year to this has been Kierstan Bell. Last year Bell played in just 21 games, averaging just six minutes a game. This year she has played in all but three games and has basically doubled her minutes played and points per game from last year. She put up a career-high 15 points in 18 minutes on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Bell knew she needed to improve her defense to play more this season. Her offense was there from the day she graduated from FGCU, but her ability to guard needed to improve for her to find herself a stable role. She has improved on that side of the floor and it has given her more playing time and more confidence. She has also gotten a lot of confidence from the veterans on the bench with her.

“I think it really helps a lot,” Bell said. “Honestly just continue to get the same reminder, being in a position where Syd is, she’s still a leader, regardless of if she doesn’t play, or if she does play, she still is trying to be a leader off the court. And I think her and Alysha do that role very, very well. I can listen to them. They’ve been in this league a long time.

“So having the veterans that are here, and to learn from I think it’s been amazing. And I’m just going to continue to learn, continue to harp on questions that I have to ask them, because it’s only going to help me get better. I’m not just watching them and practicing against them. But listening and soaking in all the knowledge that I can. So, it’s been it’s really been honestly, great.”

Las Vegas Aces forward Alysha Clark (7) Las Vegas Aces center Kiah Stokes (41) Las Vegas Aces center Cayla George (13) Las Vegas Aces guard Kierstan Bell (1) and Las Vegas Aces guard Sydney Colson (51) await to check in during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 8, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Bell and Colson along with Cayla George and Alysha Clark make up the Aces bench. Kiah Stokes had been a mainstay on the bench but has recently moved up to the starting lineup with the injury to Parker.

The Aces starters always huddle before the game and the bench has started doing the same thing. They will huddle, have a prayer led by Clark and then reiterate the game plan that the coaching staff has given them. Even after moving back into the starting lineup, Stokes has still been going to the bench huddle because she is so used to the routine of joining that group before the game.

Whenever you watch an Aces game, it is hard to miss the Aces bench. They are always full of energy and seem to always have a different celebration whenever one of their teammates makes a great play. Last Sunday, Chelsea Gray made a full-court pass to Stokes for a layup, prompting Bell to grab head coach Becky Hammon in a big bear hug on the sideline. Anytime an Aces player makes an and-one near the bench, the Aces bench will emphatically hype them up.

“It’s just a blessing to have great human beings on the bench,” Plum said. “You know, like, everyone on our roster is just so excited for each other. And it’s genuine, you can feel it. And that just fuels you when you’re playing and stuff. And not even that but just in timeouts Syd Colson is always in my ear, talking about pick-and-roll stuff coverages. Defensively, we just have a lot of people that really want to win and make an impact, whether they’re in the game or on the sideline. … It’s been really refreshing and so fun to play.”

The Aces’ chemistry has stemmed not only from the time they have spent playing together on the court but also from the things they do off the court as they spend a lot of time together outside of basketball. They will have impromptu team dinners at one of the players’ houses after practice. If someone is doing something with a few teammates, they will invite others to try to include everybody. When you look at the content the Aces and their players post on social media, you can tell they have a lot of fun together and don’t take themselves too seriously.

A’ja Wilson and Cayla George high-five in the Las Vegas Aces road game at Minnesota on July 22. Photo Credit: John McClellan/The Next

The Aces are full of talent, with four number on picks on their roster, but ego has never been an issue for them. For a team to add a WNBA superstar like Candace Parker would usually require a lot of change. But the Aces welcomed her with open arms and she fit like a glove. For this Aces group, no one cares about individual accolades. They enjoy celebrating each other’s individual achievements but, for all of them, it is about winning as a cohesive unit. There aren’t many teams in all of sports with such a strong mentality of winning over accolades.

“This is the best team. This is the best team I’ve played on,” Plum said. “I mean when you play USA Basketball, that’s a really good team. But it’s a different type of team. And you kind of come together and you got like, a couple days to figure it out, and then go play. This team is the most connected I’ve seen in terms of chemistry, offensively and defensively. I just think one, like the whole, like down the whole line. You can take somebody out and put someone in and there’s just a connectivity and a chemistry level. Honestly, this is the best team I’ve ever played on.”

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

1 Comment

  1. MICHAEL E SHOLLER on August 5, 2023 at 11:56 am

    7 deep for playoffs

    Their good enough to pull it off but Harmon trusting anyone past Clark is no guarantee.
    Bell will be huge asset if she can perform in the Playoffs like she has of late.

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