Thursday, August 6, 2020

On the Beat With Coach Bill Laimbeer and the Las Vegas Aces

The Las Vegas Aces beat the Dallas Wings 79-70 on Sunday to improve their record to 2-2. Tonight, the Aces play the Washington Mystics, who are 2-2.
The Aces are coached by former NBA star Bill Laimbeer. A star at Notre Dame, he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 3rd round of the 1979 NBA draft. Laimbeer opted to play in Italy, but returned to play with the Cavs for the 1980-'81 season. After two seasons with the Cavs, he was traded to the Detroit Pistons, with whom he would play 11 seasons, winning two NBA titles and making four All Star teams along the way.
In 2003 he was named coach of the Detroit Shock.He coached eight seasons with the Shock, followed by a return to the NBA as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 2013, he returned to the WNBA as coach of the New York Liberty. After five seasons, he became head coach of the Las Vegas Aces.
For his WNBA coaching career, his teams have a record of 264-203. His Detroit Shock won three WNBA titles during his reign.
Laimbeer is as blunt as ever, but he also shows his humor at times. I have enjoyed my exchanges with him, despite having reservations going into this experience. With a reputation preceding him, I thought he would be much more gruff, and maybe he is with his team, but I can only judge him by how he has treated me as part of the press.
I asked Laimbeer about the the balance of pushing his team hard in practice with giving them time to recover, his bluntness with the team and his thoughts on the food in the bubble. He gave thoughtful, insightful answers and had a chuckle or two along the way.
Next up was Carolyn Swords, who came out of a brief retirement to return to the Aces this season. After starring at Boston College, Swords was selected by the Chicago Sky in the 2nd round of the 2011 WNBA draft. She played three seasons with the Sky, missed the 2014 season, but returned to play two seasons with the Liberty, followed by one season with the Seattle Storm. In 2018, she joined the Aces. She planned to retire to the front office after last season, but changed her mind and is playing again.
For her career, she has played 232 games over her nine seasons, averaging 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Although a small sample size, she is posting career high numbers so far this season.
I stumped Swordas a bit by asking her about the food situation. Then Burdick jumped in and asked her about playing for Coach Laimbeer. It was a fun exchange.
Burdick played at the University of Tennessee before being selected by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2nd round of the 2015 WNBA draft, but was cut prior to the season. She signed with the Atlanta Dream and played two seasons with the team. She split 2017 between the Liberty and the Aces, also playing 2018 with the Aces. She was just signed by the Aces, reuniting her with Laimbeer, with whom she has a love-hate relationship. For her WNBA career, she has played 29 games, averaging 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
Burdick's grandfather played tackle three seasons in the NFL with with the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Reds 1931-33. He was killed in a train crash in 1945.
I asked Burdick about her decision to return to play in the bubble. She gave a very reflective answer.
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