Las Vegas Aces rookie Kate Martin impresses in first WNBA start | Aces

Things have a way of coming full circle for Kate Martin.

The rookie guard out of Iowa made her first WNBA start Sunday night in a 96-92 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. It was the same team Martin faced during her debut May 18, an 89-82 Aces win.

The result wasn’t the same Sunday, but the team believes there’s a silver lining.

Superstar forward A’ja Wilson thinks the early adversity the Aces are facing will prepare Martin and the rest of the team for the postseason.

“Every night, to us, is a playoff game because we’re going to get everyone’s best game,” Wilson said. “I love particularly for Kate to be in these situations, so when October rolls around, it’s not a punch in the face. It’s familiar.”

Things haven’t been as smooth for the Aces as they were last year.

Sunday’s setback dropped them to 5-4 on the season. They didn’t lose their fourth game until August last year. They’re getting everyone’s best shot as the back-to-back defending WNBA champions, plus they’re playing short-handed.

Point guard Chelsea Gray has yet to play this season due to a lower left-leg injury. Forward Kierstan Bell has been out since the Aces’ opener with a lower right-leg injury. The team’s bench got even shorter Sunday with guard Jackie Young out with an illness.

Coach Becky Hammon placed her trust in Martin with the Aces down to nine healthy players. Young likely won’t be out for long — she was not listed on the team’s injury report Monday — but the belief Hammon showed in the rookie is sure to go a long way.

Hammon, when asked what went into preparing Martin for her first start, said she wasn’t worried at all about the 24-year-old’s readiness.

“She’s my little (Alysha Clark) out there, so she’s going to be prepared,” Hammon said. “She’s going to study. She’s probably overstudying, actually.”

Martin didn’t disappoint.

She recorded a career-high 13 points while going 3-for-3 from beyond the 3-point line. She added four rebounds and three assists.

Martin has proven to be a seamless fit in the locker room as well as on the court. She’s won over fans fast, as she received boisterous applause from the moment she was announced as a starter in Los Angeles’ Arena on Sunday. There were multiple signs designed to get attention from “Money Martin.”

“I’ve never been to California in my life. So honestly, I didn’t expect that,” said Martin, the 18th pick in April’s draft. “I never expect anything, really. I had no expectations coming into the league and I think that’s what’s been so fun. I got an opportunity and I made the best team in the world. It’s just been a lot of fun since. Obviously, it would be more fun if we got the win tonight.”

The Aces have made sure to keep Martin on her toes. They’ve poked fun at her, but also showered her with kindness.

Wilson said the team wouldn’t do all that if it didn’t love Martin. The respect is mutual, as Martin appreciates that Wilson has taken her under her wing.

“I’m sitting next to the best player in the world. And not only is she the best player in the world, she’s the best leader I’ve ever been around,” Martin said. “For the best player in the world to tell me to keep shooting it and stay aggressive, I feel like on top of the world.”

The quote was another example of the symmetry in Martin’s story. Indiana star rookie Caitlin Clark once said something similar about her former Iowa teammate, who was a Hawkeyes’ captain from 2020 to the end of this past season.

“(Martin’s) probably the best leader I’ve ever been around in my entire life,” Clark told reporters in October. “She is somebody you want on your team no matter what sport it is, male or female.”

Martin and Clark faced many formidable foes together.

The Aces’ next five games should present a similar challenge for Martin as she establishes herself in the WNBA. The team faces four of the top five clubs in the WNBA standings in that stretch, starting with a meeting against the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at [email protected]. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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