Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:10 pm
Milwaukee’s professional women’s basketball team, called the Milwaukee Aces, will step up its game this spring after recently joining the Women’s Basketball Development Association, which functions as a D-league for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and international play.
The Aces, entering their fifth season in May, are currently Wisconsin’s only professional women’s basketball organization, and the second one the city has ever had. The first was the Milwaukee Does, who played two seasons in the late 1970s before dissolving in 1980.
The Aces, previously part of the Global Women’s Basketball Association, play home games throughout their summertime season at Reiman Gymnasium at Alverno College on Milwaukee’s south side. Its roster is comprised of 12 active players, all of whom must be at least 21 years old and have played a minimum of two years at a collegiate level.
Although the team is based in Milwaukee, it attracts a handful of athletes from out of state, said Bernell Hooker, who has owned and operated the organization since founding it in 2014. New to the roster this year will be a couple players from California, she said.
As a new addition to the WBDA, the team will serve as a “middle piece between college and pro,” Hooker said, and after five years, she thinks the Aces are ready for this next step.
“It took many trials and errors, ups and downs to come this far but we are now in a position for national exposure and competitive play with the WBDA,” she said. “We are finally getting the word our there about who we are and what we do.”
The WBDA, formerly known as the Women’s Basketball Blue Chip League, was purchased in August by William Kelly who has rebranded the 14-year-old organization “to create more opportunities” for its players to rise to the professional level or play internationally, Kelly said.
The Aces join almost 50 teams and almost 500 players that are now part of the WBDA, making it the largest professional women’s basketball league in the country, he said. By comparison, the WNBA consists of 12 teams with a total of about 130 players.
“There was only four teams, including the Aces, which didn’t allow us to play much, in the GWBA,” Hooker said. “With the WBDA, we now are guaranteed to play against 6 teams with access to play non-conference games outside of our region with other teams.”
As part of the WBDA’s rebrand, Hooker was named its director of community engagement. In her role, she will lead efforts to build recognition teams on a local and national scale. She said building a fan base– both in Milwaukee and around the country– will boost the public’s awareness and support of women’s athletics.
“We need foot soldiers,” she said. “You need to be outside of your market so your fan base can grow. If we don’t share those stories, no one will see the importance of it.”
This mission is also a part of Hooker’s day-to-day job as the founder and CEO of Images of Us Sports, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that offers athletic and sports education programs to girls.
“We need to get people to understand how important sports is for girls,” she said.