July 9, 2024 

Aari McDonald makes electric impact on Los Angeles Sparks

McDonald: 'That’s all I needed, was somebody to believe in me'

LOS ANGELES — Since her days as a freshman at the University of Washington, fans have had the pleasure of watching Aari McDonald race past defenders, finish at the rim and get steals with alarming ease. Now playing in her fourth WNBA season, McDonald, who eventually transferred to Arizona in 2018, has had numerous matchups against former Husky teammate Kelsey Plum. (“She’s always gonna give me her best shot,” McDonald said after her Sparks defeated the Aces on June 9.) Last Friday was no different, when the Los Angeles Sparks pulled off an upset over the Las Vegas Aces at home. It was their first win in nine games, and included another huge performance from McDonald.

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McDonald finished the game with a career high 23 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, alongside 0 turnovers in her 40 minutes of play against the Aces. She was clearly a go-to on offense, able to repeatedly challenge Plum going “north-south,” as Sparks head coach Curt Miller noted in his postgame press conference. 

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McDonald’s play has been consistently trending upward all season. After battling a nagging ankle injury, the point guard’s playing time jumped from 15.2 minutes per game in May, to 25.8 minutes per game in June, to 33.4 so far in July, following injuries to Layshia Clarendon and Lexie Brown out indefinitely with illness. Similarly, McDonald’s point totals have almost tripled from the first month of the season to now, from 5.7 points per game in May to 14.7 points per game through the first three games in July. After starting the last seven games, she is averaging 12.4 points and a whopping 5.6 assists per game. 

“Playing with a coach and with teammates that believe in you and trust that you’re going to make the right play,” McDonald told the press after the Sparks’ victory over the Aces. “That’s all I needed, was somebody to believe in me. And when that happened, my confidence was boosted.” 

Miller echoed his point guard’s sentiments: “You can feel the confidence. You can hear the confidence that she just wanted a coaching staff to believe in her. She just wanted an opportunity at this level, and she’s feeling it.”

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Even amid a rough losing streak, McDonald’s impact was undeniable. She recorded her first career double-double against Phoenix on June 28, with 10 assists and 12 points. 

After a disappointing loss to the Washington Mystics on July 2, where McDonald had 17 points accompanied by 6 assists, Miller still sang her praises. “I love the fact that Aari is taking advantage of her opportunity,” said Miller after the game. “She’s more comfortable. You can tell she’s learning the system more and more. I think she appreciates the green light that our staff has given her to not only lead this group but to play her game: play fast. She has the green light to hunt her own offense as the scoring point guard. I love what she’s bringing.”

Fans gravitate towards McDonald’s electric energy. When she extended the Sparks’ lead to nine with a step through against Plum, Sparks and Aces fans alike let out a deafening roar in Crypto.com Arena. Her teammates were similarly excited. 

“Aari’s speed is incredible,” Sparks teammate Kia Nurse, the only guard consistently in the Sparks’ starting lineup this season, told The Next. “Her vision and ability to see the game, I think she’s only just kind of scratching the surface of what she can do in this league, which is crazy to think about because of how talented she already is.” 

When asked about McDonald’s unbelievable energy, Sparks rookie Rickea Jackson emphasized how it affects the rest of the team. “She keeps our energy high and keeps us calm at the same time,” Jackson said. ” … Whether it’s going to get a bucket, kicking it out, she’s always making the right play. And she’s always taking accountability as well and I feel like that’s important as a point guard.”

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While McDonald’s offense has been particularly notable lately, her defensive effort has been her calling card since college. “Not only do you get it on the offensive end and obviously her ability to score, but defensively as well,” Nurse told The Next. “She’s a pest out there, she gets up into people and forces them to do things that they don’t want to do.” 

The shorthanded Sparks are looking to bounce back from their tough road trip with a few wins. On a young team hungry for both victories and veteran leadership, McDonald’s impact is priceless.

Written by Cameron Ruby

Cameron Ruby has been a contributing writer for The Next since April 2023. She is a Bay Area native currently living in Los Angeles.

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