LAS VEGAS — Growing up in Boise, Destiny Slocum didn’t get the chance to attend WNBA games on a regular basis.
To her recollection, the former Mountain View star went to Seattle once and saw the Storm play and immediately became a Sue Bird fan.
Saturday, the 2016 McDonald’s High School All-American was back in Seattle with the Las Vegas Aces.
And while Bird finished with 11 points in the 97-83 win, Slocum didn’t get a chance to make her professional debut, as she was one of two Aces who didn’t get in the game.
Not surprising, as coach Bill Laimbeer made it clear she’ll be working for playing time this season.
“It’s been a quick turnaround since the Draft, when you talk about the opportunity I’ve been presented, to play against or share the floor with such great basketball players and great individuals,” Slocum said during the Aces’ media day. “I’m just humbled and honored in so many ways. It’s nice to be in a place to grow and learn with them.”
It was Slocum’s willingness to learn the game that immediately impressed the face of the franchise right from the start.
Reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson remarked how she was taken aback when Slocum walked into the locker room one day, with a whiteboard and playbook in hand.
“As a rookie, my playbook ... I didn’t even open it,” said Wilson, the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year. “To see her do that, it really shows how much she cares about the game and how much she wants to grow. She doesn’t have to just know her position. She has to know everyone’s position and make sure they get there. She’s doing a great job so far.”
Slocum’s attention to detail reveals a side of her that reminded Wilson of the team’s star point guard Kelsey Plum, as both are perfectionists when it comes to their craft. And while she might be adding pressure to herself by expecting so much right away, it’s that desire to learn that keeps you in a league where the vast difference between college and pro hits quickly.
Players are better, they’re stronger, they’re bigger, they’re faster, they’re far more talented, and so when many second-round picks get cut right away, toting that whiteboard to team meetings isn’t a bad thing.
“Throughout my college career I’ve realized knowing plays is important but also understanding the entire concept of why we’re running a play, who we’re running it for,” Slocum said. “It’s important as a point guard, and just as a guard in general, how you can set people up the best way possible.”
But it didn’t click immediately, as Slocum — as Laimbeer put it — was a “deer in headlights” when she first arrived for camp and saw players like Liz Cambage, standing 6-foot-8, and moving as quickly as the point guards with fleet footwork in the paint. Or seeing veterans like Plum, Wilson, Angel McCoughtry, Riquana Williams, and former McDonalds All-American roommate Jackie Young, playing at a pace Slocum wasn’t used to, yet.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Laimbeer said rookies will always be behind, and will always struggle. It’s rarely a seamless transition, and the key is simply to improve every step and make a good showing of themselves. Laimbeer, who is coaching his 20th season in the WNBA, said Slocum performed admirably in a scrimmage against the Los Angeles Sparks considering the pressure she may have felt.
“It was a great eye-opener for her in the first three or four days,” Laimbeer said. “She’s not afraid, and I think that’s a really good trait for any professional athlete. She shoots the shots when she’s open and after the first few days, they started to go in. Leading the show, learning how to do that also, because she had to learn the players. Overall, she’s actually pretty ready to go. She’s grown a lot maybe in the last four or five days, that she thinks she belongs.
“I think she has what it takes to be in this league for an extended period of time.”
Slocum appreciates the unique situation with the Aces because while they have one of the most talented rosters in the league, they weren’t drafting picks and looking for someone to come in and make an immediate impact. This is why she appreciates when the veterans have pulled her aside personally to share their thoughts and provide critique, whether it’s about finishing moves, what to look for when attacking, how to get her shot off quicker, keeping up with the pace, or getting her feet set faster.
She’s just willing to soak up knowledge from last year’s runner-up, bide her time, and step on the court prepared when her number is called.
“I think she’s adapted really quickly,” Cambage said. “She’s had Plum and Jackie and Angel, ya know vets of the game, to help her. She’s gonna fit in the system really well.”