Shooting, skills contests get All-Star weekend off to a raucous start

Friday, July 26, 2019 - Shekinna Stricklen celebrates winning the three-point shooting contest  during the WNBA All-Star Weekend at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. (Maria Noble)
Friday, July 26, 2019 – Shekinna Stricklen celebrates winning the three-point shooting contest during the WNBA All-Star Weekend at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. (Maria Noble)

Las Vegas – WNBA All-Star weekend kicked off with enthusiasm Friday, with a three-point shooting contest and a skills challenge that delighted fans.

Connecticut Sun veteran Shekinna Stricklen won the three-point shooting contest, outlasting Las Vegas Aces fan favorite Kayla McBride in the final round. Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields topped Sun center Jonquel Jones to win the skills challenge. Both athletes were given $10,000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

Stricklen said she was surprised to win, and shocked to beat defending champion Allie Quigley.

“Honestly, I was thinking I at least needed 25 to 27, not going to lie,” she said. “I’m still shocked about the first round, I didn’t think 21 was enough. I really thought Allie was going to get a lot more. I think she was a little nervous. I was still shocked about that. I really was pushing for 25 to 27 because [McBride was] in the hometown, got the crowd, I really had a feeling she was going to get hot.”

DeShields fell behind in the final round, and sprinted to catch up and hit the finishing three-point shot before Jones.

“JJ switched sides on me, she took my side, so I had to go to the side I hadn’t been on the whole time,” DeShields said. “I knew I had gotten behind in passing, but I just wanted to get the balls out quick. And then I knew that if she missed her first three-point attempt that I was going to make mine, so that’s what ended up happening. I’m attesting it to my hard work and just never giving up.”

Prior to the contests, players from both Team A’ja Wilson and Team Elena Delle Donne took part in a brief and casual practice.

Five-year Indiana Fever veteran Erica Wheeler, who wasn’t drafted but who was cut from a team and worked her way back into the league, said she relished making her first All-Star game appearance.

“I took a moment to sit and think about it,” she said. “I’m the only undrafted one this year. I made a team by an invite so now you got to put respect on my name. All the players have been (me) showing real love.”

She said her perspective has changed over time.

“Just being a student of the game, being able to look at the game differently, being able to see things develop, see it way before the defense can see it,” Wheeler said. “Before I just to just play it, now I’m a student.”

Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd was happy to have parents Gwendolyn Davis-Loyd and Calvin Loyd in town for the game. Davis-Loyd is often a presence at home games in Seattle, and actively campaigns for increased WNBA attendance through her “Women Hoop Too” movement.

Loyd said her mother didn’t know much about basketball until her daughter started playing.

“She had no clue,” Loyd said. “But now she knows players, she knows their bios, she knows everything about basketball – even on the NBA side. She’s really immersed herself in the game. She knows all the rules, she knows what happens sometimes before I do. She’s taken it on herself to make sure she knows the game and speaks the right information about the game.”

Both DeShields and Stricklen praised the Aces franchise for a high-quality event.

“The energy was amazing,” DeShields said of Friday. “I’ve been showing mad love to Vegas, but I’ll say it again. Shout out to all the people here with the Aces and with the league that put this event on. That was great energy in there. We tried to do everything we could to make it fun for the fans and I think that they enjoyed themselves as well.”

Stricklen said she couldn’t agree more.

“It’s been great,” she said. “I’ve wasn’t blessed to be one of the many All-Stars, but everyone has treated me like I’m one. The atmosphere was amazing, the crowd was amazing. I had a lot of fun.”

The All-Star game airs at 12:30 p.m. PT on ABC.