Becky Hammons’ career-long “underdog” mentality has helped the defending champion Aces get back on track

Becky Hammons’ career-long “underdog” mentality has helped the defending champion Aces get back on track
Becky Hammons’ career-long “underdog” mentality has helped the defending champion Aces get back on track

HENDERSON, Nevada (AP) — Becky Hammon has had to prove throughout her career that she is one of the best in basketball.

She was named an All-American at Colorado State University in 1999, but went undrafted that year. Although Hammon was a multiple WNBA All-Star, she was never part of the U.S. Olympic player pool.

The mentality of having to earn respect helped make Hammon a Hall of Fame player career, It continues to drive her as a coach of the Two-time defending WNBA champion, Las Vegas Aces.

“If you want to see me as an outsider, I’m perfectly comfortable in that role,” Hammon said. “I’m not someone who got here by luck. I had to work. I’m not afraid of work. I like to work and I like to work hard.”

“I don’t like failing at anything.”

She trains with a similar mindset. What helped her in Las Vegas is that Hammon and her players mirror each other.

A’ja Wilson has not to be named MVP last season on a crusade that continues this year with a historic run of games. Kelsey Plum said she told her coach to “kick rocks” at their first meeting when it was suggested that Plum be brought off the bench. And point guard Chelsea Gray is as gifted a passer as any in the WNBA, but she won’t hesitate to put the team on her back by making game-winning throws, as she did when she was named the MVP of the 2022 finals.

This shared attitude has created their championship chemistry and rewarded owner Mark Davis’ decision to give Hammon the league first coaching contract worth $1 million per year in 2022 to leave the San Antonio Spurs bench after eight seasons.

“She’s as competitive as can be,” Plum said of her coach. “When you see her playing cornhole, it’s a terrifying sight. Her background and the fact that nothing falls into her lap has made her who she is. Becky is someone who will always win. She’ll figure it out.”

Championship DNA: Hammon and Dawn Staley

Hammon had to figure some things out this season. The Aces began the year with a 6-6 record, the same number of losses they had in all of last regular season. But since Gray returned from injury, Las Vegas has won seven of its last eight games.

But regardless of their record, as defending champions, Hammon expects everyone to step up to face the Aces.

“We just have to understand that the other teams are racing us at 110 miles an hour,” Hammon said. “It’s not a good time for us to be on cruise control, and I think we did that a little bit.”

That comment doesn’t surprise Wilson, as he compares Hammon’s candor to that of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. Wilson said both will be brutally honest in their assessments, but will also go above and beyond to defend their players.

“It makes my job a lot easier because I know I’m never alone,” said Wilson, who leads the league in points (27 points per game), blocks (2.7) and rebounds (10.9). “She and Coach Staley are so familiar with each other in that regard. It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to coach you and push you hard. At the same time, I’m going to love you even more.’ And I love that because it allows me to make mistakes and not be perfect.

“Sometimes I try to be perfect and that always brings me back down to earth.”

Hammon’s former All-Star status has helped her empathize with players, and the 47-year-old has admitted that her lack of size and speed has forced her to excel in other areas.

“She had to work hard for everything she was given,” said New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. trained Hammon in San Antonio. “I think she just has a good feel for the game. They say not all point guards are good coaches, but many are. She has had so much experience as a coach.”

Hammon and Aces want to make history

Hammon was a three-time Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Colorado State and led the Rams to the Sweet 16 in 1999.

Despite going undrafted, Hammon made the Liberty roster and played eight seasons in New York, the last three as a starting point guard. The Liberty traded Hammon to San Antonio in 2007, where she played another eight seasons, averaging 15.6 points and 5.1 assists and making the All-League first team twice.

The Silver Stars moved to Las Vegas in 2017 and were renamed the Aces. Hammon’s No. 25 jersey hangs in the rafters of the Aces’ home arena.

Her playing career earned Hammon induction into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame last year and she was present to her speech San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was another new addition. Hammon tearfully thanked Popovich for “doing something that no one else in professional sports has done.”

She was recovering from a torn ACL in 2013 and asked Popovich if she could watch some practices. Soon, Popovich was asking Hammon not only to attend every practice, but also to attend coaches’ meetings and home games.

A year later, Popovich offered her a job with him.

He gave Hammon the keys to the Spurs Summer League team in 2015. Hammon was the first woman to coach a team to the title.

“That was the first time I was actually in charge of the team,” Hammon said. “As an assistant, you try to help Pop make the best decisions, but ultimately the decisions come back to him. Good or bad, he’s the one who has to take the load. So when I played in the summer league, that was a big deal.”

Hammon made more history on December 30, 2020, when Popovich was ejected in the second quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Hammon then took over and was named first woman to coach an NBA team.

She could one day return to the NBA and continue to make history as a full-time head coach.

Hammon stresses, however, that what she is thinking about most is that the Aces could potentially be the only team besides Houston to win three WNBA titles in a row (the Comets even won four in a row).

“So if that possibility doesn’t appeal to you?” Hammon asked rhetorically, “it’s just the simple fact that I hate to lose.”


AP basketball writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.


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