Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young has found success at every level of basketball. She has a high school championship, an NCAA Division I title at Notre Dame, and last summer, she won Olympic gold in her first 3×3 event. Now, as a first-time WNBA All-Star, Young, an Indiana native, has added another accolade toward her ultimate goal.
“Everyone wants a ring. I really want a ring,” Young said, adding, “We’re close every year.”
Young is making her fourth WNBA season in Las Vegas and has made every year of the playoffs, including a run to the 2020 Finals. The Aces selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 draft.
Young is one of the best defensive weapons on the aces and is posting the best offensive numbers of his career, helping him earn a starting spot in his All-Star debut this weekend. The All-Star Game is Sunday in Chicago.
When Young arrived in Las Vegas in 2019, it was his first major move from Indiana. He was the middle child and his older brother, Terence, and younger sister, Kiare, also played basketball.
Jackie attended Princeton Community High School, where she scored 3,268 career points on the girls basketball team, a record for both the girls and boys teams. From Princeton, Young traveled about 300 miles northeast to play at Notre Dame.
As a sophomore, he scored 32 points in the semifinals of the 2018 Final Four against Connecticut. In the championship game against Mississippi State, Young hit the game-tying layup and made a steal that led to teammate Arike Ogunbowale’s game-winning basket. Young played one more season with Notre Dame before entering the 2019 WNBA Draft.
“My dream has always been to play in the WNBA and the decision came down to my family. I knew I needed my family’s support and I’ve worked for it my whole life,” Young said.
She described her family as “close” and said she had uncles and aunts around to support her mother, Linda Young. His extended family sometimes shared housing in order to be financially sustainable. Jackie Young’s decision to leave Notre Dame meant less financial burden on her family.
“My mom, a single mom, made a lot of sacrifices for me and my brothers,” Young said. “He definitely went out of his way to make sure we had food on the table, clothes on our backs, and so I knew if I had the opportunity to leave early, I would.”
Young will make about $72,000 this season and more than $165,000 in each of the next two seasons until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2025, according to Her Hoop Stats.
Her transition from college to the WNBA was swift.
Notre Dame lost to Baylor by 1 point in the 2019 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship in Tampa, Florida. Three days later, Young was in New York and announced as the first overall pick in the WNBA draft.
Aces forward Aja Wilson made a similar move to the WNBA a year ago, but with an added twist: Aces also traded from the San Antonio Stars. The franchise spent 15 seasons in Texas before moving to Las Vegas as the Aces for Wilson’s first season.
“When I got drafted, we were such a new franchise,” Wilson said. “I didn’t have a vet who knew the ropes.”
Wilson decided to jump at the chance to be Young’s big sister.
“Jack was like our first rookie,” he said. “We were already pretty established, in a sense, so I wanted to make sure I could be the vet that I didn’t have for him and answer all the questions he needed, make sure he was comfortable.”
Now a veteran, Young is held accountable when other players or Aces coach Becky Hammon ask him to prove himself.
“I talked to Becky about it earlier in the season, just talking about court awareness and seeing things before it happens,” Young said. He added: “I think it will help us down the road, I’ll just be more vocal. I just work on it every day.”
The work didn’t go unnoticed by Wilson, who won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2020.
“Jack is a person where he understands his task, 100 percent. He’s a pro at what he does and watching that growth, honestly, it’s been incredible to watch,” Wilson told reporters recently. He added: “He’s locked in no matter what, and he’s going to make sure others around him do the same.”
Another challenge for Young is knowing when to close his competitive advantage.
“He is someone who is always in the gym. I have to throw him out,” Hammon told reporters before the Minnesota Lynx’s recent win.
“I’m literally telling him to go home and get the ball and put it on the shelf,” he added.
Hammon, who retired as a point guard for the San Antonio Stars, said he believed Young was in consideration for the MVP award this season. He trusts Young to guard the best perimeter shooters every night.
“I’m really proud of it,” Young said. “I know the stops and I have a big task every night. So I think everybody on this team knows that.”
The next level of Young’s game, as Hammon sees it, is more demanding on offense. It goes hand-in-hand that he’s evolved into a confident on-court communicator—a floor general.
“I want it to be an animal. That’s what I want,” Hammon said, adding that “I want him to understand that he can impact a game like that and demand that kind of attention offensively.”
Offensively, Young is posting career highs in points and points per game and continues to be reliable on defense. He is averaging 17 points per game, up from 10 points per game in his rookie season. His 46.9 percent accuracy from 3-point range is one of the best in the league at the All-Star break.
Not only will Young appear in her first WNBA All-Star Game on Sunday, but she will also start for Las Vegas Aces teammates Wilson and Kelsey Plum.
Will the fun festivities in Chicago be a chance for hard-working young people to downgrade? Probably not.
“I don’t think it’s any less competitive for Jack,” Plum said. “I think he’s going to do what he’s doing.”
This will also be Plum’s first All-Star appearance, and he’s ready to take on Young. Both of them competed in the skills competition on Saturday.
“I know he’s going to try to beat everybody, including me,” Plum said. “It’s just who he is. He wants to win everything. And if he doesn’t win, someone cheated.”