LAS VEGAS — Cameron Brink, Deja Kelly and Hailey Van Lith sat courtside for the WNBA All-Star Game last month, looking directly at their preferred futures.

The three are heading into their senior years — Brink at Stanford, Kelly at North Carolina and Van Lith at LSU. And like the players on the court, their WNBA dreams are so close, they can almost touch them.

“God willing, this is a dream of mine,” Brink said. “So, I think seeing all this is such a good reminder of how much hard work it takes to get there. And what the players sacrifice to be in this league. I think it’s just a really humbling experience, and I’m just really happy to be here.”

Anyone who watches the WNBA or dreams of playing in the league is familiar with the difficulties of making a roster. There’s a lot of talent coming out of college basketball — Brink, Kelly and Van Lith included — but a limited number of spots.

This season, 15 of 36 draftees made opening day rosters, 15 remained on rosters from the 2022 draft, and just eight players drafted in 2021 were rostered to start the season.

For the three seniors, this upcoming season is crucial to raising their draft stock. The next two WNBA drafts could feature the deepest classes the league has ever seen.

As undersized guards, Kelly (5-8) and Van Lith (5-7) are both focusing on extending their range. Kelly shot 28% from beyond the arc last season, while Van Lith made 29% of her attempts. They’ve been effective getting to the rim off the bounce in college, but they know 3-point shooting is vital to success in the WNBA.

“I’m working on a number of things,” Kelly said. “But I think just being as consistent as possible, just playing within my game. That and really extending my range as well. I think as a guard and my size, it’s something I have to have.”

Brink also wants to improve her outside shooting as a skill that can set the 6-4 forward apart from other bigs. She looks to players like Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson for inspiration on how to capitalize on versatility while remaining dominant inside.

Versatility has become increasingly important in the WNBA in the last few years, as traditional, back-to-the-basket posts and guards who can’t create for themselves are becoming less effective. Posts have to have range, and guards need to be able to score in isolation.

Van Lith and Brink are coming off a successful stint in 3×3 basketball, where they claimed gold at the FIBA World Cup in June and Brink was named tournament MVP. The nature of 3×3, they say, promotes versatility.

“I think 3×3 is such a dynamic game, and it’s so volatile,” Brink said. “You have to be able to defend every position, be able to shoot, be confident in your shot. You have to be able to handle the ball and clear the ball in between possessions.”

Brink, Kelly and Van Lith pose with reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson during All-Star weekend. (Annie Schutz/Just Women's Sports)

With only three players on the court at a time, Van Lith even spent time in the paint, playing with her back to the basket. It’s an unexpected skill set that she hopes to show off next season at LSU, after transferring from Louisville to play for the defending NCAA champions.

“I have a post bag, and it is deep,” Van Lith said with a smile. “Just wait until I get to LSU, because it is coming out.”

Changes in women’s basketball are happening off the court, too. Brink, Kelly and Van Lith have witnessed the rapidly evolving landscape firsthand, coming into college during the COVID-19 pandemic and now being some of the first players to benefit from NIL.

The opportunity to accept sponsorships and marketing opportunities has allowed college players to build and monetize their personal brands, bringing more attention to themselves and the game. Players like Aliyah Boston, who is enjoying a successful rookie season, is proof that talent can get players to the next level, but personality and visibility can bring fans from college to the WNBA. Boston already has a strong following from South Carolina, and those fans have continued their support for the Fever post, voting her as an All-Star starter this season.

“NIL plays a huge role in that growth process, just because fans get to see what we are doing for NIL, and it makes them want to watch us play basketball even more,” Kelly said. “NIL hit my sophomore year, and a lot of people wanted to see our team and see what we were about. Once they saw we were actually good, it made them want to come back.”

Of course, not every NIL deal transfers from college to the professional ranks. Branding remains important at the next level, and several players have found ways to benefit despite not going to college during the NIL era.

Wilson, the two-time WNBA MVP, has deals with Starry and Ruffles. Stewart, another of the league’s most well-known players, has a signature shoe with PUMA.

Coinciding with more eyes on the league, fashion has become a big part of WNBA culture. Skylar Diggins-Smith launched an entire clothing collection with PUMA last season, and tunnel pregame tunnel outfits have dominated WNBA Instagram accounts for the last few seasons.

The differing styles among players are one of the many ways they express and market themselves. It’s also something that’s trickling down to the college level.

“I love it,” Van Lith said. “There is no pressure to put a label on it. They can dress masculine one day, and the next day they can show up in a dress. There’s so much range.”

Player fashion, Van Lith says, is bigger than just what brands they are wearing. Like the changing versatility on the court, it represents exactly what the WNBA is about.

“The league is just a great example of diversity in so many ways,” she says. “Fashion is definitely one of those.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

LAS VEGAS — A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray had Michelob Ultra Arena in the palm of their hands on Saturday.

With the ball wedged behind the backboard, Wilson grabbed a mop used for wiping sweat off the court and went to retrieve it. Then, as she said after the game, the music took over her body.

Wilson started to dance, and Gray joined in. As they moved in unison, the crowd cheered and laughed. It was one of the most genuine and vocal reactions from the crowd at the WNBA All-Star Game, and it had nothing to do with basketball.

The Aces duo took a mundane moment and made it magical.

Over the last two seasons, Las Vegas has captured the attention of the basketball world. And as excitement surrounding the sport increases, the Aces are at the center of it.

“Since I came into the league until now, the increase in media attention, national games, social media has been tremendous,” said Aces guard Kelsey Plum, drafted first overall in 2017. “And I think it’s just going to continue to grow.”

The 2022 playoffs, in which the Aces took home the WNBA title, resulted in the most-watched WNBA postseason in 20 years. This year at the All-Star break, the league is on pace to register the most-watched season in history. Attendance is up 27%, TV viewership is up 67%, and the 2023 All-Star Game hosted in Las Vegas was sold out. It also clocked in as the most-watched All-Star Game in 16 years, with 850,000 average viewers tuning into ABC.

The Aces as a team are also making their mark on the growth of the game.

Halfway through the regular season, Las Vegas is firmly in first place at 19-2. They had four players voted into the All-Star Game — Wilson, Gray, Plum and Jackie Young — and Wilson served as a captain for the second season in a row after garnering the most fan votes. The Aces are also averaging the highest attendance in the league this season, welcoming over 9,000 fans per game, according to Across the Timeline.

“I think that we have some generational talent on this team,” Plum said. “And I also feel like we have some generational personalities. And I think that people connect with people. So growing the game is something that I think is important to us individually and collectively as a team.”

On the court, the Aces have created one of the best teams in history. Their starting five includes four former No. 1 draft picks: Wilson, Plum and Young were selected by the franchise, while the fourth, Candace Parker, joined the squad in the offseason as a free agent. The fifth starter is Gray, who signed with the Aces in 2021 free agency and has since made herself invaluable, earning 2022 Finals MVP after a breakout playoff performance.

Coaching the team is Becky Hammon, a WNBA legend herself who went on to serve as Gregg Popovich’s assistant coach in the NBA before taking over the Aces organization and winning a title in her first season.

“I think with someone like Becky as well at the helm, it brings even more attention,” Plum said. “Las Vegas is like a perfect melting pot, and I think that it’s taken off in a way that’s been super beneficial to the game and to the league. And I think you see other organizations stepping up as well.”

Hammon heads up the Aces on the sidelines, but when it comes to the team’s public image, Wilson leads the way.

The 26-year-old has deals with companies like Ruffles and Starry that help her build her brand. But more than that, it’s Wilson’s personality that draws fans.

Her dance mid All-Star game was just a snapshot of who Wilson is. In press conferences, she professed her love for Bojangles, joked about her team not following curfew leading up to the game, and answered questions while holding assistant coach Tyler Marsh’s baby. When he started crying, Wilson looked into the media room and said: “Where are this baby’s parents?” The remark, as a Wilson joke usually does, elicited laughs from the media.

Wilson holds the attention of every room she’s in, and the same holds true on a basketball court.

She’s been instrumental in the Aces’ success, and there’s been plenty of it.

A'ja Wilson has become the lifeblood of the Aces team on and off the court. (Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

The two-time MVP has been dominating the WNBA since 2018, when she was named Rookie of the Year after a standout career at South Carolina. For her career, Wilson is averaging 19.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

Las Vegas has finished in the top four of the WNBA standings in each of the last four seasons, and looks primed to finish on top again in 2023. They advanced to the Finals in 2020, appeared in the semifinals in 2021 and won the title in 2022.

“We win,” Wilson said. “It’s easy to cheer on a team when they’re winning. And that’s what it’s gonna take, for people to see us as winning the games, playing the right way and making it entertaining. So, when it comes to growing the league or the game, whatever you want to say, I think we do it in a way that’s like, ‘It’s us.’”

While the Aces are at the forefront of the league’s growth, they aren’t the only team that has a hand in it.

The most-watched game this season so far was between the Dallas Wings and the Los Angeles Sparks, and the most-attended contest was Brittney Griner’s return to Phoenix, when the Mercury took on the Chicago Sky.

The Aces have a personality that’s hard to ignore and is unique to their franchise. The other 11 teams, Wilson says, have their own thing.

“It’s going to look different for different teams, different cities,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean, like, don’t watch it or it’s not as entertaining. It is, it’s there. Give it a chance. And I think that’s what we do. We just go out there and be us.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

LAS VEGAS — A few days before the All-Star Game, in a poetic sort of foreshadowing, Courtney Vandersloot decided to watch highlights of Brittney Griner dunking.

The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center has been known for the skill since her college days at Baylor, and Griner and Vandersloot have now both been in the league for a long time — a decade for Griner and 12 years for Vandersloot. They’ve played together overseas and against each other in the WNBA. Seeing Griner dunk brought back happy memories for the Liberty guard.

Last season, Vandersloot and the rest of the WNBA weren’t sure if they would see Griner again at all, let alone dunking on a basketball court.

But on July 9, she threw one down against the Sparks for her first of the season. And on Saturday, there she was again, dunking twice in the All-Star Game and adding a new highlight to the videos Vandersloot was watching.

Brittney Griner was back where she belonged.

“Just to see her smile again, she just lights up the WNBA community,” DeWanna Bonner said before the game. “I’m super excited that she gets to be back here and experience this.”

When Griner was announced, the Las Vegas crowd erupted into booming cheers. This time last year, she was still wrongfully detained in a Russian prison. Her presence was felt as the WNBA’s 2022 All-Stars honored Griner by all coming out in the second half wearing her No. 42 jersey.

But on Saturday, there was only one Griner jersey on the floor. The only one the WNBA needed.

It was a powerful, heartfelt moment. But that’s not why Griner was in Las Vegas. The Mercury center made her ninth All-Star appearance because, against all odds, she’s in the midst of an incredible season.

When Griner returned home, she promised to play basketball in 2023 but said it would take her time to get her footing once again. In reality, that hasn’t been the case.

In her first game of the season, Griner recorded 18 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two assists, and since then, she’s continued to stuff the stat sheet. The Mercury are struggling, currently second-to-last in the league standings with a 4-15 record, but Griner is not. She’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

Seeing Griner smiling, joking with teammates, interacting with fans and even eating bacon and snow cones on the sidelines during All-Star weekend served as a reminder of what was missing when she was gone. Brittney Griner the person is truly something special.

So is Brittney Griner the basketball player. Seeing her with a ball in her hand, wearing an All-Star jersey was just as impactful. And Griner has been impacting the game for years, dating back to her days at Baylor.

“She’s one of the best to ever do it,” Vandersloot said. “She’s unstoppable, unguardable. It’s incredible what she’s been able to do.”

In the All-Star Game, Griner put up 18 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.

From the sidelines, Stanford star and fellow post player Cameron Brink marveled at Griner’s skills. Brink grew up watching Griner, gleaning whatever she could from the center’s game.

“She’s iconic,” Brink said. “If she drops-steps, you better take charge or something, because you’re not stopping her. She has great body control, a great spin move. She just has a great package of footwork.”

Griner has served as inspiration for a generation of post players who have come behind her, many of whom are in the league now.

Ezi Magbegor still remembers the first time she had to guard Griner when Australia faced the United States in the 2018 FIBA World Cup. Now, the two are peers in the WNBA.

Despite being 6-9 and dominant in the paint, Griner doesn’t just rely on her size, something the 6-4 Magbegor admires.

“She’s not one-dimensional,” the Storm forward said. “She can shoot, and she moves up and down the floor really well. Her presence on the court defensively and offensively is felt, and that is something we all look up to. She’s brought a lot to the game.”

(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

Griner has been consistent on the court from her time at Baylor — where she won an NCAA Championship and was named National Player of the Year in 2012 — to her WNBA career. Since the Mercury selected her with the top overall pick in 2013, Griner has won a WNBA Championship, been named an All-Star seven times and earned a spot on six All-WNBA Teams and seven All-WNBA Defensive Teams.

During her career, Griner has never averaged fewer than 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game — the numbers she put up during her rookie campaign.

With that kind of dominance, it comes as no surprise that after Saturday’s All-Star Game, Griner was asked what it would be like to play as an All-Star in Phoenix, the host site of the 2024 game.

There was no qualifying statement of “if you’re selected,” because Griner having another All-Star season feels like a foregone conclusion.

That’s what happens when, as Vandersloot said, you’re one of the best to ever do it.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

LAS VEGAS — Aliyah Boston flipped her cascading pink and white braids. She hit the stanky leg and flashed a smile.

Then, the WNBA rookie scored the first bucket of the All-Star Game. Boston finished with six points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes as her Team Wilson ultimately fell to Team Stewart, 143-127, on Saturday night.

Three months ago, Boston was in college. On Saturday, the Indiana Fever star looked at home as her name was announced among the All-Star starters to a cheering Las Vegas arena.

Boston was more than ready for this moment. Not just the All-Star Game, but the league in general.

She was ready when she was taken first overall in the 2023 draft. She was ready when opposing teams triple-teamed her throughout the 2022-23 college season just to attempt to slow her down. Boston was ready during her National Player of the Year campaign in 2021-22, and maybe even before.

The term “pro-ready” has been suctioned to Boston’s name for a long time, and for good reason.

“She was ready in college. And not just during her senior year, before that,” Stanford senior Cameron Brink said. “It doesn’t matter what level she’s playing at. She’s going to be dominant.”

In her rookie season with the Fever, Boston is averaging 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and one steal while shooting 61% from the field. That shooting percentage is better than her career and season marks at South Carolina, an amazing feat when you consider the increase in talent from college to the WNBA.

Boston’s physical skills have lent themselves well to the WNBA, where she is able to use her strength to displace defenders and her touch to finish around the rim. It’s a skill set with which anyone who watched or played against Boston at South Carolina is familiar.

Boston has recognized the increased physicality in the WNBA, but it didn’t take the Fever forward long to adjust. Even in her first WNBA game, against the Sun on May 19, she had 15 points, nine rebounds and a block while shooting 60% from the field.

That stat line came against Brionna Jones, one of the league’s top post players, and Boston had no issues with the matchup.

“She is definitely the strongest player I’ve played against,” said Brink, who faced Boston in several high-profile NCAA games, including the 2021 Final Four. “She’s solid. She can will her way to the basket. She has great hands. She’s a great rebounder, and she has a midrange game as well. She’s the prototype low post, honestly.”

Then, there’s the defense. Boston was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in college, known specifically for her rim protection. She made opposing guards think twice about driving the lane, and posts had to utilize extra creativity to get the ball to the rim.

Her shot-blocking has also translated to the WNBA level, where she averages 1.3 per game, tied for eighth overall in the league.

North Carolina guard Deja Kelly can’t help but laugh when she thinks about playing Boston during her sophomore season.

“I felt bad for my posts,” she said. “They could not move her. She was literally bullying them all game. And they’d laugh if they heard me say that. We were making fun of them.”

Kelly admits that she didn’t fare too well driving against Boston, either.

“She probably got a block or two off on me,” Kelly said. “Her presence is definitely felt when she’s on the court. When we played [South Carolina], our goal was not to drive the paint. I was getting to my midrange, shooting outside shots because I knew better.”

Boston’s seamless transition into the WNBA doesn’t stop with her game skills. The 21-year-old has the mindset of a pro, something that started in college while playing for three-time National Coach of the Year Dawn Staley. She made a point to learn everyone’s assignments on defense and studied aspects of the scouting report that didn’t even apply to her.

That hasn’t changed.

“Aliyah is special, man,” Fever coach Christie Sides said in May. “She wants to learn. She’s asking questions, good questions. She’s watching a lot of video. She’s doing extra work with the coaches.”

Boston nearly recorded a double-double in her 2023 WNBA debut. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Boston enjoyed her All-Star weekend, accompanied by her parents and older sister. She walked the Orange Carpet in an Adidas set and got her nails painted pink and white to match her hair. She even knocked down a halfcourt shot during practice on Friday.

But she also set out to learn. Surrounded by elite post players, including fellow South Carolina alum and All-Star teammate A’ja Wilson, Boston had role models aplenty.

“When you look at the level of intensity that all of these women play with, it is truly special,” she said. “I really look at all of them to see how I can improve my game, because they all have a lot of experience over me and it’s just nice to see where they’re at right now.”

While Boston looked up to an older generation of posts during All-Star weekend, current college players looked up to her. A few months ago, they were in the same league. Now, Boston is an All-Star starter.

Her success gives them something to aspire to.

“To already be an All-Star is insane,” Kelly said. “She’s out there getting 20 and 10 [in WNBA games], and it’s light work. I think it’s super dope.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

LAS VEGAS — Now is the time for Kelsey Mitchell.

It’s been time. The entire WNBA has seen it. But now after six seasons, Mitchell’s game will be on full display for her first WNBA All-Star Game.

“This is an overdue All-Star for her,” Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “She’s been at an All-Star level since she got into the league.”

Yet as Indiana continues to find itself, Mitchell has remained firmly under the radar.

WNBA players are tired of it.

“I think she’s underrated because maybe a lot of people don’t know about her,” Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “But if you’re in the league, you know exactly what Kelsey is bringing. She’s one of the best guards in this league.”

Mitchell is averaging 16.7 points and three assists per game for the Fever this season. She also leads her team in minutes, playing 33 per contest.

The Fever have been in a rebuild for as long as Mitchell has been in the WNBA, drafting her with the No. 2 pick in 2018. She’s served as a building block as the team attempts to break a six-year playoff drought and climb back into contention. So far this year, Indiana is 5-15. That’s nowhere near where they want to be, but it does equal their wins total for the 2022 season and includes several close calls, like an overtime loss to the Liberty on Wednesday.

In every contest — whether a win, close loss or a blowout — one thing remains the same: The opposing defense is locked in on Kelsey Mitchell.

“Scouts make a different game plan for Kelsey every time we play,” teammate Aliyah Boston said. “They know she’s a killer. She shoots the ball at a high clip, and she’s an explosive guard as well. Teams know they have to prep for her in a different way than they might other people.”

Teammates and opponents know how talented Mitchell is, but there’s a disconnect outside the league.

In this season’s All-Star voting, Mitchell was ranked 10th by fans and 13th by media members, but 5th by fellow WNBA players.

That’s not a Kelsey Mitchell problem; it’s a perception problem, according to Alyssa Thomas, another player who is no stranger to being underrated. Despite her three triple-doubles this season, Thomas was not voted an All-Star starter.

“I think coaches’ and players’ voting should carry more weight than anything,” Thomas said. “I mean, we’re the ones that go through it each and every day.”

Mitchell has been a foundational player for the Fever during their rebuilding years. (Mollie Handkins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The current system gives fans 50% of the weighted vote, while media members account for 25% and coach and player votes account for the other 25%.

Attempting to defend Mitchell is all the evidence Thomas needs of her dominance.

“Having to guard her is not an easy task,” Thomas said. “She’s been on a team that is rebuilding, but her game has remained consistent. She’s able to score in various ways, and every time we play [Indiana], it’s very tough for us.”

Each season, Mitchell’s game evolves. And each season, she becomes better at being a pro.

Mitchell, 27, never allows herself to think she knows enough. Her career is a constant learning process, which is exactly how she’s approaching All-Star weekend. It’s a time to celebrate accomplishments, but Mitchell is also focused on how the experience can make her — and the Fever — better.

“It’s about enjoying the moment, taking it one day at a time, soaking up as much knowledge as we possibly can from other great basketball players,” she said, referencing teammate and fellow first time All-Star Boston. “Me and AB are going to take the opportunities where we can and be grateful and graceful.”

That mindset comes as no surprise to Mitchell’s college coach at Ohio State, Kevin McGuff. He spent four years begging Mitchell to take a day off and asking other staff members to help him get her out of the gym.

But for Mitchell, every moment that’s not spent improving is a moment wasted.

“She’s always been a real student of the game who wants to learn more and get better,” McGuff said. “It doesn’t surprise me that she’s still got that mindset. And I’ve seen incredible growth in her game, but there might be more to come. She will continue to find ways to get better.”

The biggest change he’s seen in Mitchell this season is the way she controls the game.

“She’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen where the ball comes with her,” McGuff said. “She can play so incredibly fast and still have command of the ball, which is an incredibly rare skill.”

He also sees Mitchell as “one of the most exciting players” in the WNBA, which is why her low rank in the fan and media voting surprised him.

But fellow WNBA players see what McGuff sees.

The respect from her peers means something to Mitchell, but she doesn’t put too much stock into it. Instead, the guard focuses on the same things she always has.

“No matter how many years I’m in the league, going against these great players, as grateful as I am, I just like to put the work in for the basketball part,” she said. “I’m grateful that they think of me that way. For me, it’s about making sure I’m doing everything I can for my team, and staying consistent in my work.”

That work ethic has been even more important this season as the Fever begin to turn a corner. There is also an increased amount of excitement around the team, thanks to the addition of young stars like Boston. And as the franchise finds its identity, Mitchell is the perfect piece to build around.

“When you’re building like that and bringing in young players, she is a great mentor,” McGuff said. “And as a coach, you want someone with the ball in their hands who is going to make everyone around them better.”

Mitchell and Indiana rookie Aliyah Boston are both first-time All-Stars. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Her ability to lead extends back to her college program. Ohio State is coming off its first Elite Eight appearance since 1993, having gotten there by beating NCAA powerhouse UConn in the Sweet 16. Taylor Mikesell, one of the team’s stars from the tournament run, is now on a WNBA roster with the Dream, and the Buckeyes have two other potential WNBA players in Jacy Sheldon and Cotie McMahon.

As the program continues to rise, players can look to Mitchell as proof that being a Buckeye can lead to a successful WNBA career — even if it takes too long for that value to be formally recognized.

“We want our program to be known as a program that can develop people into being ready to go to the WNBA,” McGuff said. “So to see her having that success is a great reflection of our program.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

The WNBA All-Star weekend’s Orange Carpet did not miss.

This 2023 All-Star Game is taking place in Las Vegas, with the city’s fans serving as gracious hosts – cheering on the participants in the skills challenge and 3-point contest Friday and selling out the game itself Saturday. And Friday night featured another time-honored tradition: the Orange Carpet.

“It’s crazy to think yesterday was just Thursday,” Aces star and 2022 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said. “I feel like All-Star weekend started yesterday, but it obviously starts today. We’re going to have a lot of fun and entertain.”

For Wilson, it’s been fun getting to show off the city of Las Vegas and the growth that the women’s game has experienced since the team won its first title last season.

“We’re home, we’re here, and we’re happy to show everyone how we get down here in Vegas,” she said.

Chelsea Gray noted that it’s “pretty cool” to be at All-Star weekend with her Las Vegas teammates. “I know the vibes are going to be great,” she added.

And for Brittney Griner, the opportunity to be back at the All-Star Game is one she cherishes. The Phoenix Mercury center, who spent 10 months wrongfully detained in Russia in 2022, called it “a great feeling to be here.” She also added that she’s looking forward to playing on Team Stewart on Saturday.

“Being here right now, it’s a little surreal, a little bit,” Griner said. “Just taking it in.”

From New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu looking as sharp as she shot the ball in the 3-point contest to Indiana Fever rookie Aliyah Boston showing off her Adidas fit, check out highlights from the Orange Carpet.

Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty

(Grace Beal/NBAE via Getty Images)

Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings

(Grace Beal/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces

(Grace Beal/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kahleah Copper, Chicago Sky

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

DiJonai Carrington, Connecticut Sun

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Isabelle Harrison, Chicago Sky

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Courtney Vandersloot, New York Liberty, and Allie Quigley, free agent

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sami Whitcomb, Seattle Storm

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

DiDi Richards, free agent

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray, Las Vegas Aces

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm

(Stephen Greathouse/NBAE via Getty Images)

Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever

(Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sabrina Ionescu won the 3-point shooting contest at WNBA All-Star weekend in scintillating fashion Friday, breaking the all-time record for most points scored in the contest in WNBA and NBA history.

The New York Liberty guard hit all but two of her shots in the final round, scoring 37 out of a possible 40 points to set the single-round record. That number surpasses the NBA record of 31, previously held by Steph Curry (2021) and Tyrese Haliburton (2023). It also breaks Allie Quigley’s WNBA record of 30 set in 2022.

While Ionescu missed her first shot, she went on to hit 20 in a row and 23 out of 25 for the round.

“UNBELIEVABLE!!! This record won’t ever be broken,” Quigley wrote on Twitter.

Curry also celebrated the record-breaking performance, noting that Ionescu’s shooting display was “RIDICULOUS!” Ionescu later challenged him to a shootout.

After her victory, Ionescu said that she’d been practicing with the help of Liberty teammate and Quigley’s wife Courtney Vandersloot, who gave her some tips. But it was her confidence heading into the final round that set her apart.

“Yeah, I knew they were going in,” Ionescu said of the performance. “There’s adrenaline. It was the final round. I had just lost in the Skills [Challenge] and I wasn’t going to lose again.”

The fourth-year guard is shooting 44.6% from 3-point range this season, a career best. Her 54 made 3-pointers rank second in the league.

WNBA players are having a hard time acquiring tickets for the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday in Las Vegas, and Aces star Kelsey Plum is bringing attention to the issue.

Plum, last year’s All-Star Game MVP, tweeted at WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert on Thursday after Aces teammate Alysha Clark expressed her frustration with the ticket situation.

“All I’m trying to do is go support my teammates and friends at the All Star game…Hope I can find some tickets,” two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark wrote on Twitter, tagging Engelbert.

Teammate and All-Star captain A’ja Wilson joked that Clark should say she’s “gotta get something out your locker and I’ll come grab you.”

For Plum, the issue runs deeper.

“ALL WNBA players should get a ticket to the all star game/skills challenge, I’m sick of my people being treated second class,” she wrote. “The league gotta be better, there is no excuse. @CathyEngelbert I’m sure we can fix this before the weekend….”

The Aces have four players named to the All-Star Game this year, with Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young joining Plum and Wilson. All will be playing for the same team after Wilson, serving as co-captain alongside Breanna Stewart, drafted them last weekend.

Stewart’s team includes New York Liberty teammates Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot as well as Brittney Griner, Jewell Loyd, Satou Sabally and Nneka Ogwumike.

The WNBA Skills Challenge on Friday night will feature four sets of All-Star teammates, with Gray and Plum representing Team Aces.

Plum has become increasingly outspoken about WNBA issues in the past year. She corrected what she called a “huge misconception” about the WNBA pay gap last November, and this week she expressed her dismay at Wilson not being selected for the NBA’s WNBA 2K24 cover.

Sabrina Ionescu responded to an All-Star voting snub from her fellow players with a 31-point performance Sunday in the New York Liberty’s overtime win against the Washington Mystics.

The fourth-year player for the New York Liberty finished sixth in fan and media voting among guards. But among player votes, she ranked 19th in her position group.

The top four guards in the All-Star vote — Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray from the Las Vegas Aces, Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm and Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings — were named starters Sunday for the 2023 All-Star Game, which will be played at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday, July 15, in Las Vegas. Fan votes accounted for 50% of the total score for each player, while media and player votes accounted for 25% each.

Ionescu placed eighth overall. A starter in the 2022 All-Star Game, she could still make her second career All-Star appearance as a reserve. WNBA head coaches will vote on the 12 reserves, who will be announced on July 1.

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi also finished lower in the player vote (14th) than in the fan (7th) and media (10th) votes. She and Ionescu stand in stark contrast to Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell, who finished 10th and 13th in fan and media rankings, respectively, but fifth in player voting.

The only other player (guard or frontcourt) to have a player ranking in the double-digits is Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner, who finished 10th in player voting.

While Ionescu is not in line to start, she has had a solid start to the season. In Sunday’s 89-88 comeback win, she finished with 31 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals, while shooting 7-of-12 from 3-point range. In doing so, she became the only player in WNBA history with more than 30 points, at least seven made 3-pointers, at least 6 assists and at least 3 steals in a game.

So far in this season, Ionescu is averaging 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. She’s shooting well from behind the arc, with her 43.8% average sitting at sixth in the league.

Both A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart will return as captains in this year’s All-Star game, while Aliyah Boston is the first rookie to be named a starter since 2014.