For Aisha Sheppard, it’s a dream come true.
The Alexandria, Va. native and former Virginia Tech star was selected with the 23rd pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft by the Las Vegas Aces.
As she spoke with local Blacksburg media from her hotel on the Vegas strip on Friday, Sheppard was still in shock, just like she was on draft night. With a group of 70 people at a watch party in Reston, Va., she heard her name announced.
“The last few days have been unbelievable,” Sheppard said. “I’ve worked my entire life to be here. … It was very emotional for me. It’s kind of like a culmination of things I’ve been through and kind of remembering all of those things, all of the moments it took to get there and all of the hard times, good times, everything in between.
“I had people saying, ‘You’ll get drafted, you’ll get drafted,’ but you never know. The fact that it happened was just phenomenal, and I’m just so, so excited.”
Sheppard stood with her mouth wide open, simply in awe that her name was on the screen. That one moment encapsulates all of her hard work for the last five years, ever since she stepped on campus in 2017.
Virginia Tech women’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer. The ACC’s all-time 3-point leader. A three-time All-ACC honoree, a three-time ACC All-Academic Team nominee and an AP All-America Honorable Mention performer in 2021. And she helped the Hokies return to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament, in back-to-back seasons.
Soon, she hopes to add ‘Las Vegas Ace’ to that legacy.
“I think it just goes to show you no matter what, hard work will always beat talent,” Sheppard said. “I’m probably not the most talented in this draft, even though I would say that I am. Others would think differently.
“But at the end of the day, I’ve always driven myself on hard work and continuing to be the best person and player I can be, and control what I can control. I feel like the last five years, I’ve done that.”
There’s no doubt that Sheppard is prepared.
She related this situation to her freshman year where she had to prove her worth to everyone else in the program. In Vegas, she’ll do her best to show first-year head coach Becky Hammon, the staff and her teammates that she belongs.
Kenny Brooks also ran a system that is similar to Hammon’s, so Sheppard shouldn’t have a difficult transition offensively. And even though her scoring numbers fell slightly in 2021-22 after she averaged 17.7 points the year prior, she’s looking at that as a positive.
“I feel like the WNBA GMs and coaches were able to see a different aspect of my game, especially because my scoring was down this season,” Sheppard said. “But nonetheless, we had a great season. My scoring was down, but I feel like energy-wise, leadership-wise, the qualities teams are looking for outside of my scoring ability were impacted tremendously.
Ironically, Sheppard worked out in Las Vegas with IMPACT Basketball before the draft. After signing with her agency, Green Sports Management, she flew to Miami to meet them. She stopped in New Orleans, where she participated in the CollegeSLAM 3-point contest, before jetting to Vegas.
At IMPACT Basketball, she worked out four times a day, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. Sheppard trained alongside other draft prospects and was able to adjust to a pro-like regimen and learn more about taking care of her body as a professional.
The organization, which has worked with some of the best basketball players on the planet, like Ace Kelsey Plum, provided everything, from in-house meals, protein shakes and strength and conditioning to athletic trainers and on-court workouts.
That training is just one of the many ways Sheppard has prepared herself for the moment she currently finds herself in, three days into the Las Vegas Aces training camp. It’s a two-week process that will end right before May 1, the day of the Aces’ preseason game vs. Minnesota. The franchise’s season-opener is on Friday, May 6 at Phoenix.
Sheppard is striving to make roster of 12, and though the general opinion might not lean her way, she’s not going to let that cloud her chance.
“Let’s be honest, people think I’m going to get waived,” Sheppard said. “I’ll take that mentality that I had that helped me build the person that I was in Blacksburg and take it here to the Aces to see what will happen.”
Sheppard is on the biggest stage of her career with everything in front of her. But she’s not worried. Blacksburg’s queen believes she has what it takes to turn into a Las Vegas Ace.