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With latest addition, more than half of Aces are Olympic-bound

Updated July 9, 2024 - 6:33 pm

More than half of the Aces’ roster will be competing in Paris during the WNBA’s Olympic break.

Center Megan Gustafson became the sixth Ace out of 11 to book an Olympic trip when she was officially named to Spain’s team Tuesday. The Aces’ “Core Four” — A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young — are all on Team USA. Tiffany Hayes will play on the 3-on-3 squad for Azerbaijan.

Gustafson is from Wisconsin, while Hayes was born in Louisiana and raised in Florida. The pair had to apply to become citizens of the countries they will represent this summer. Gustafson made her debut as a naturalized Spaniard during the 2024 Olympic qualifying tournament in February, averaging a team-high 14.3 points en route to a 2-1 record and Olympic berth.

“Becoming an Olympian is something I have dreamt about my whole life,” Gustafson said in a release. “And now being able to represent Spain in Paris is such an honor! (I’m) very grateful, excited and ready to start this journey.”

Hours later, the team announced she did not travel with the Aces for their road matchup against the Seattle Storm on Wednesday because of a non-COVID illness.

‘It is what it is’

The WNBA’s condensed schedule because of the Olympic break was a point of concern for coaches around the league before the season began.

Los Angeles Sparks coach and Team USA scout Curt Miller was vocal about his worries surrounding the amount of injuries to start the season. That list included Gray — who missed the Aces’ first 12 games with a lower left leg injury — and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, who will play for the U.S. after rebounding from a fractured toe in her left foot.

Aces coach Becky Hammon said before the second game of the year that she and the team had been game-planning for the Olympic break since the offseason. They hoped that it would provide extra training time for young players and some respite for “seasoned” veterans like Alysha Clark.

“It is what it is. I mean, I think (fatigue) can compound on you on your team. Every team is going to handle it a little bit differently in how we play and how we manage our teams,” Hammon said in May. “I just want (our team) to be rested as much as possible. Because it’s not just the travel to France, it’s the pressure, and the physical demands that are required for them to get a gold medal. So it’s a lot.”

The Olympic 5-on-5 tournament will start with three preliminary round groups of four teams each. The top two teams in each group, along with the two best third-place teams, will advance to the quarterfinals. The semifinals will take place Aug. 9, with the bronze and gold medal games Aug. 11.

The “Core Four” will participate in Team USA’s training camp in Phoenix ahead of the Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game on July 20. From there, they will head to London to compete against Germany in the USA Basketball Showcase on July 23. They will then open Olympic group play against Japan on July 29.

Gustafson will begin play in Paris on July 28 against China. Hayes will open the early stage of 3x3 hoops against Spain on July 30.

Back-to-back looms

The Olympic Aces won’t have much time to reacclimate to Las Vegas, as the Aces return from the Olympic break with consecutive home games against the New York Liberty and the Sparks on Aug. 17 and 18.

Last week, when Hayes’ addition to Azerbaijan’s team was confirmed, Hammon said the Aces’ plan hadn’t changed.

“Jet lag is a real thing, you know. And we come back and run it back to back. Thank you very much for that. So, I mean, it is what it is. I can’t do anything about it,” Hammon said. “Rest. That’s what I’ll be doing with them.”

Hammon added that the Aces who don’t go to Paris will get time off before they go through a “mini training camp again.” Hammon will stay as tapped in with her players as possible during the Olympics, and she has a sense of humor about it all.

“I plan on going over there (to Paris) for a little bit, and so I’m just going to stay in contact with them,” she said. “I’ll blow (Team USA and Minnesota Lynx coach) Cheryl Reeve’s phone up like, ‘Don’t play A’ja (Wilson) when you’re up 20.’ No, I’m kidding.”

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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