Jackie Young poised for breakout Year 2 with Las Vegas Aces

Akeem Glaspie
Indianapolis Star

As Jackie Young — 2016 Indiana Miss Basketball and last year’s No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft —goes through workouts at the Las Vegas Aces facility, coach Bill Laimbeer notices something different about the former Notre Dame star.

She didn’t have a massive physical transformation heading into Year 2.

Young has always had a professional body, standing 6-feet with the strength of a 10-year pro and the quickness of a much smaller guard.

It wasn’t what she was doing on the court that caught his attention either.

The all-time leading scorer in Indiana high school history after a storied career at Princeton Community High School, Young has been a known commodity since her freshman year. She has the rare ability to shoot, pass and defend at a high level, making her the surefire top pick after leaving Notre Dame as a junior.

What Young possesses now that wasn’t always visible during her rookie year is presence. Heading into her sophomore season in the WNBA, Young is carrying herself with the confidence that comes from experience.

Young’s gradual progress is exactly what the Aces expected when they drafted her ahead of players viewed to contribute immediately such as No. 2 pick Asia Durr (New York), No. 5 pick out of Notre Dame Arike Ogunbowale (Dallas) and No. 6 pick and 2019 Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier (Minnesota).

“Some (rookies) will come in like Sue Bird and others will take a little time to develop. We realized that Jackie would take time to develop,” Laimbeer said.

“I think Jackie is a very level person and she realizes that after the first year that she figured out what she has to do body-wise and how to play the game. I think this year you’re going to see a dramatic shift on the basketball court more so than she had last year.”

While Young didn’t take the league by storm, she did earn a spot on the WNBA All-Rookie team alongside Collier, Ogunbowale, the Fever’s Teaira McCowan and Phoenix’s Brianna Turner, also a former Irish teammate to Young.

Young finished eighth in the WNBA with 153 total assists, and her 2.89 assist/turnover ranked sixth overall. She averaged 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Shifting to a lead guard role was a new experience for Young. She went from splitting time on and off the ball in college to having the ball in her hands full time as a pro.

Other than playing in the post, running the offense as a rookie is the toughest transition for a rookie to make.

Laimbeer doesn’t want to the ball to stick in his lead guard’s hands. He prefers a free-flowing, movement-based offense. So for Young, simply being more comfortable with the offense, along with increased minutes, should lead to more production.

“I wasn’t the point guard in college, at certain times I would play point. So coming to the league and playing strictly the 1 was definitely different for me, definitely an adjustment,” Young said.

“I have one year under my belt, so it’s nice. Just knowing that when you come in, you’re not going to be completely lost. It’s like freshman year, rookie year is like freshman year. So just trying to figure it out, figure out the system, after you get one year under your belt, it’s like, okay, I kind of have this figured out.”

The loss of 2017 No. 1 overall pick Kelsey Plum (Achilles) for the season puts additional pressure on Young to continue to progress as a lead guard.

Laimbeer said he still wants Young to spend some time off the ball, but her main role will be as a lead guard. The Aces will also be without star post player Liz Cambage, possibly putting more of a scoring load on the second-year guard.

Young does have the benefit of entering Year 2 with fresh legs. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing people to stay inside, Young got her first extended time to relax at home with her family in Indiana in years.

About 24 hours after Notre Dame lost to Baylor in 2019 National Championship, Young made the decision to forgo her senior season and enter the WNBA Draft. Two days later, she was in New York City, getting selected No. 1 overall on April 10.

The whirlwind journey continued as Young went back to Notre Dame for two weeks, only to leave school early to report to training camp with the Aces. She finished up her course work in Vegas, and made her WNBA debut May 26 against the Los Angeles Sparks.

After the WNBA season concluded, Young played two games for Elazig of the Turkish Women’s Basketball League before returning stateside in March.

“It’s definitely different. I haven’t been home for that long, in a long time, usually just short periods of time. And so we were just able to hang out as a family,” Young said. “It was (relaxing) for a little bit, then I was like, okay, I’m ready to get back out to Vegas to get to work.”

Laimbeer is hoping Young’s improvement will lead to better results for the team. Last season, the Aces advanced to the WNBA semifinals before losing the series 3-1 to eventual champion Washington Mystics.

Without Plum and Cambage, improving on last year’s 21-13 record may be difficult, but fans can expect to see an improved Jackie Young.

“She learned her way last year and she was successful at it and we had a good season,” Laimbeer said. “Watching her practice right now one on zero, we think that she’s going to do very well.”

Follow IndyStar sports producer Akeem Glaspie on Twitter at @THEAkeemGlaspie.

Las Vegas Aces’ Jackie Young drives against the Washington Mystics during Game 4 of a WNBA playoff on Sept. 24, 2019, in Las Vegas.