LAS VEGAS -- Moriah Jefferson had never been to Las Vegas until this weekend. Now she will call it home.
Jefferson, point guard for the San Antonio Stars the past two seasons, is now a member of the recently relocated and newly named Las Vegas Aces. The WNBA franchise, which was bought by MGM Resorts International from Spurs Sports and Entertainment in October, made it official on Monday with a grand ceremony at the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay, complete with representatives from the league, the new ownership group, and the team, alongside a glitzy video production featuring Cirque du Soleil and confetti to unveil the new nickname and logo.
"Everything is just so big. I'm getting used to the atmosphere and all the lights and just how big everything is," Jefferson said. "Today was just amazing. The video, the logo, the team name. Everybody was just on top of everything. I think this is going to be a good opportunity and a good fan base for us."
Both Jefferson and teammate Kayla Alexander, who was also on hand for Monday's announcement, said they were initially shocked upon hearing the news that their team was leaving San Antonio. But once that wore off, they were all in on the idea of living and playing in Las Vegas.
"I started my career in San Antonio, so I was a little sad at first, but now that I am here and see all this excitement and how into it everyone is, now I can't wait," said Alexander, a fifth-year center. "One thing that stands out to me is how the city of Las Vegas and the people at MGM are so passionate about having a team here. Just the fact that they wanted us here is a big deal."
Jefferson, Alexander and the rest of the Aces will play their home games next spring at Mandalay Bay Events Center. MGM has committed to spending an additional $10 million to upgrade the arena and is quickly moving to building a new practice facility, indications that this could be a different kind of ownership. That fact wasn't lost on coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer, who feels like MGM's resources and the allure of Vegas will be a big advantage to the franchise.
"People want to be here and this is a first-class operation that MGM is putting together," said Laimbeer, who has won three WNBA championships. "The commitment that they are putting forth is big and players notice that. Word of mouth will get around so fast. This will be a huge win."
Wins are exactly what the franchise has been lacking. The Stars produced the worst record in the WNBA each of the past three seasons. Laimbeer has plenty of young talent in the likes of Jefferson, Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum, as well as the No. 1 overall and No. 13 picks in April's draft.
"I'm not sure we are going to have that lock-down defensive system. We will probably be more free-flowing."Bill Laimbeer, on how Las Vegas might not be as defensive-oriented as his previous teams
Laimbeer is known for making roster moves, but for now his priority is filling out a staff -- it currently consists of just three people -- and getting started on all of those basketball decisions, one of which might include changing his on-court philosophy altogether.
"I have been defensive in this league for a long time, but I'm not sure we are going to have that lock-down defensive system. We will probably be more free-flowing," Laimbeer said. "We do have scorers with Plum and McBride, and Jefferson can push the ball up the floor a million miles an hour."
On-court success is one thing. Proving that Las Vegas is a viable market for women's professional basketball could be another. While the two could eventually go hand-in-hand, WNBA president Lisa Borders feels like the initial solution is simple.
"Tickets, tickets, tickets. Fill the arena, fill the arena," Borders said emphatically when asked about the league's goal for its new team in Las Vegas. "Vegas brings star power to our league. It's a destination city, so you are importing people that are a potential fan pool. And the data tells us that Vegas is a top-10 basketball market. We want to go where the fish are biting."
For their part, the players are ready and eager to get out into the community and help establish a solid local fan base.
"If we can show everyone how hard we play and show them how passionate we are, that will help, but also community involvement," Alexander said. "As players in the WNBA we pride ourselves on giving back and that will be the same here. If we do that I think the fans will come."
Jefferson plans to move to Las Vegas as soon as possible. She also needs to continue rehabbing a knee injury that limited her to 21 games last season and required surgery in September. The move and the enthusiasm around it, the chance to play for Laimbeer, and being healthy again has her fired up.
"Everybody surrounding us is rallying around us and wanting us to do well here," said Jefferson, an all-rookie selection in 2016. "I can't say it enough. We are just so excited to be here."