Aces rookie Kate Martin prepares out of spotlight for Caitlin Clark reunion and meeting with Fever

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Kate Martin was right there as her best friend, Caitlin Clark, became the face of women's college basketball the past two years and then was in the building when her Iowa teammate was selected first by Indiana in this year's WNBA draft.

Martin also was drafted that April night, going 18th to the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Though she knows what the spotlight looks like up close, it's not nearly as intense for Martin as it is for Clark. That gives Martin the breathing room to adapt to professional basketball while not having every move scrutinized.

“We're not asking her to come and score 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds),” Aces two-time MVP A'ja Wilson said. “We don't need that from her. We just need her to bring the energy and the hard-working mentality that she had in college.”

Martin and Clark remain in touch, but they have not seen each other since they went to their separate WNBA teams. That changes Saturday night when the Aces host the Fever.

“I miss her a lot,” Martin said. “I spent every day with her the last four years, and I haven't seen her in like a month and a half. I'm excited to see her, and obviously it's going to be a good game. It's going to be a fun environment.”

While it's been known since Clark declared Feb. 29 for the WNBA draft that she would go No. 1, there was no guarantee Martin would be taken at all. She attended the draft in New York as Clark's guest hoping to hear her own name called.

Then there was no certainty Martin would make the Aces roster. Coach Becky Hammon said Martin earned a spot based on “her work ethic, her competitiveness and her brain.”

“She's trying to work her way into some rotations, so she's still learning our system,” Hammon said. "She's still learning our dos and don'ts, and so she's going to have to learn on the fly. But what I love about her is I know what I'm getting when I put her in the game. It's going to be effort, it's going to be smart effort, it's going to be tough effort.”

Even though Martin plays with a noticeable fire that has drawn raves from her All-Star Aces teammates, she didn't place a lot of pressure on herself to make the club.

“I knew it was going to be really hard to make this team, so I just came in with an open mindset,” Martin said. “I wanted to be a sponge and learn as much as possible, and after a few days, I started to gain more confidence. I thought, ‘Maybe I could make this team,’ but I never got my hopes up too high because you never know what's going to happen in this league.”

She was eased into the season and didn't play in the May 14 season opener against the Phoenix Mercury, but came in off the bench four days later against the Los Angeles Sparks.

Martin made her first career 3-pointer in that game and had five rebounds, three assists and one memorable block in 26 minutes. The rejection was of Sparks 6-foot-7 center Li Yueru, in which Martin gave up 7 inches in height, that drew a guttural yell and chest bump from teammate Kelsey Plum.

“She knows how to play with superstars,” Hammon said. “That in itself is a skillset to know and understand how to impact a game without ever shooting the ball. In that LA game, she scored three points, but she impacted us absolutely winning that game."

Martin was critical of her play in the following game. She missed all four of her shots in 14 minutes and had two rebounds and no assists.

The loss to the Mercury was the Aces' first defeat this season — they had just six in the regular season last year — and though Las Vegas' problems that game went far beyond Martin, she is looking to bounce back.

It just so happens that opportunity is against Clark and the Fever.

“Maybe I'm being a little hard on myself, but I feel like I messed up a few times," Martin said of the Mercury defeat. "It's not easy. You don't want to disappoint anybody. You don't want to let your teammates down, so you really have to learn how to deal with that.

“Losing is going to happen and I'm not a good loser."

___

AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball