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And One with Jackie Young: Aces’ breakout star talks confidence

(Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a new regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions with a WNBA player. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the athletes of the WNBA a little bit better.

When I first connected with Jackie Young for the inaugural edition of And One, she was calling from the Las Vegas Aces team bus. The team was heading from the airport to a hotel in the midst of a WNBA whirlwind travel day, and the background chatter was boisterous and loud. A’ja Wilson’s signature laugh stood out from the rest. Young laughed in amusement — we could barely hear each other — before calmly finding a different seat, closer to the front of the bus and away from the merriment.

I couldn’t help but think how such a simple move actually mirrored Young’s basketball game: calmly and confidently finding an open space to take a shot, and nailing it seamlessly.

In Young’s first WNBA season, after she went No. 1 overall to the Aces in the 2019 draft, she averaged 22 minutes and six points per game. Over the course of her four-year career, Young’s game has evolved in every facet. She has developed a deadly midrange jumper, improved her shot and extended her range. But perhaps the biggest evolution has been Young’s on-court confidence.

This season, under first-year head coach (and longtime NBA assistant for the San Antonio Spurs) Becky Hammon, Young has emerged as one of the top players in the WNBA. Though sidelined recently with an ankle injury, she’s averaging 32 minutes and 19.2 points per game on 54 percent shooting (45.7 percent from 3), making her a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player and even league MVP.

We talked about all of this and more in the first And One.

1. Why does Becky Hammon’s run-and-gun system fit this team so well?

I think we just have a lot of talented players on offense, so everybody’s pretty unselfish. Since training camp started, we knew what she wanted from us, and that’s just being unselfish, making the extra pass, making the right play. So, I think that’s why it’s been fun to play for her and it’s been fun for fans to watch.

2. How have you individually been able to thrive under Hammon?

I’ve just been able to play my game, be confident, be aggressive and just take the open shots. I think it extended my range out to the 3 and actually taking the wide open ones that I’m getting. I think that’s the biggest thing — just make sure I’m taking the shot.

3. You have consistently improved in every statistical category as a player since you entered the league. What have you worked on specifically over the past few years to make your game better?

A lot. When I first got into the league, it was developing a midrange game. I’ve been able to get to the basket my whole life, but when I got into the league I was like, OK, there’s people that are 6-8 here and they’re big defenders, good defenders. So, I had to just expand [my game], and with Bill [Laimbeer]’s offense, a midrange game suited me and us, really. I developed that my second and third year. Going into my fourth year, I knew I needed to work on my 3. I knew, to become the player I wanted to be, I had to have a 3 ball. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that and working on myself so I’d be confident to shoot whenever I did get it.

4. How has your confidence grown?

Just doing a lot of work. My teammates always had faith and confidence in me. I just had to have the same trust in myself, just working on myself off the court. Still putting in a lot of work on the court, but just making sure I was good mentally was the biggest thing. Once I saw my mindset change, I was just thinking better, feeling better, and I started playing better.

5. This Aces team always looks as though it’s having fun out there. How has team chemistry impacted that?

Yeah, I mean, it’s so much fun. I think it shows. We’re all friends on and off the court. I think that’s what makes us so good when we do step on the court. I think it’s just making sure that there’s a balance. When we come to work, we know we have to get the job done. But at the same time, we’re gonna be joking around and stuff whenever the time fits.

6. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to learn about you?

I have a street named after me back home in Princeton, Indiana — Jackie Young Way. That happened when I was in high school, I want to say. It’s the street turning into the high school.

7. What’s your favorite non-basketball thing to do?

Honestly, I just like to hang out with my friends and family. Just chill and honestly, watch basketball (laughs). Or go shopping.

8. If you weren’t a professional basketball player, what would you be doing?

Ooooh. I mean, I was a high jumper in high school for a little bit. I ran track. So, I probably could be doing that or, I don’t know. Maybe I should have tried tennis? I love watching tennis.

9. What’s your go-to pregame warm up song?

I don’t really have any. We have music in the locker room, but I don’t really have my headphones in. I just like to get ready for the game, watching film and reading the scout [report]. Stuff like that to get my mind right.

10. Who’s the biggest jokester on the Aces and why?

Probably Sydney Colson. I feel like she’s just always saying something funny, almost at the wrong time so that it just, like, really stands out, you know? Her Instagram is pretty funny.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.