Ohio native Kierstan Bell played basketball for Canton McKinley High School, where she earned the nickname “She-Bron” after NBA star LeBron James, a fellow Ohio native. Bell and James are the only players in state history to be named Ms. or Mr. Ohio Basketball three times. Bell started her college career at Ohio State University, but after deciding she didn’t want to play at a big school and becoming a highly sought-after prospect in the transfer portal, she landed at Florida Gulf Coast University. Here, she dominated, averaging 23.5 points and 9 rebounds, and being named the ASUN Player of the Year during both her seasons.
“We thought within our system she would have a lot of freedom to do different things and show off her versatility, that she would really excel,” said FGCU coach Karl Smesko. “And I really thought she could become like a first round WNBA draft pick.” This proved to be true when Bell declared for the 2022 WNBA draft and was selected in the first round, 11th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. The pick came as a surprise to Bell, as the Aces were not one of the teams she had previously talked to. Despite this, the fit seemed almost destined to be. In her college career, Bell also became the only player to be named the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year in back to back seasons, and now she would be playing under new Aces head coach Becky Hammon. “You know I love the small school, diamonds in the rough, finding those types of players,” said Hammon. Additionally, the system Hammon will be running in Vegas is similar to the one Bell played in at FGCU, so it truly may have been the perfect landing spot for the rookie guard to grow into a pro. Her only points so far have come in the Aces preseason game against the Minnesota Lynx, where she scored eight. However, as the season goes on and Bell begins to get acclimated to the W, she could become a serious competitor who makes this Aces team that much more dangerous and fun to watch. She was voted sleeper rookie most likely to be a success by The Committee earning 30.77% of the votes.
What stands out most about Bell isn’t the numbers or accolades, but the energy she brings. She's been described as "fearless" by Kelsey Plum and had her confidence praised by A'ja Wilson. Fans have also been able to get a glimpse of the light that she is off the court through her Instagram live streams, which have had members of the women's basketball community calling for Bell to be given a show or podcast.
When Aisha Sheppard first picked up a basketball it was during halftime of her brother's game. She grew frustrated, unable to make a shot with the ball too big for her at the time. To this day, she still has the same kid in a candy store feeling when she sees a ball, only now she is Virginia Tech’s all-time leading scorer and the ACC women's basketball 3-point record holder. Sheppard's college coach Kenny Brooks knew she was something special when he first saw her at a tournament, which he initially attended when he was a coach at James Madison University. He was there to watch one of her teammates, but his attention gravitated towards Sheppard the entire game. He later accepted the coaching position at Virginia Tech, made his first phone call to Sheppard, and the rest is history.
Sheppard's love for the game led her to studying multimedia journalism with a concentration in sports media and analytics during her time at Virginia Tech. She was fascinated with the way analysts were able to get into the world of professional sports and capture the stories of athletes. "I love telling stories because all athletes are so much more than the sports attached to their names," said Sheppard. After completing her Bachelor's, she went on to get a Master's in Leadership Studies. "Everything I do is always for my family and just the fact that i'm the first in my family to pursue a Master's and then be able to graduate with one is awesome to me," she said.
The former Hokie was drafted to the Las Vegas Aces in the 2022 WNBA Draft. As her name was called, Sheppard sat, mouth wide open, taking in the moment as loved ones around her erupted into celebration. "It's hard to put into words being in this experience and in this phase in my life, but i've worked so hard to be here and i'm just going to continue to work," she said.
Being the 23rd overall pick, many expected for Sheppard to be cut and not make the final roster. The 5’9 guard proved them wrong, impressing her coaches and teammates. “Watching some film on her in college I was super impressed with her…I thought she made pro moves and you don’t see that a lot…and then she came into training camp and basically didn’t miss. She has a really great skill set, she knows who she is, and so I had to keep her. I'm somebody who values shooting and she can flat out shoot it,” said Aces head coach Becky Hammon. When asked about which rookie had impressed her most in training camp, Riquna Williams answered with certainty that it was Sheppard, noting her will to ask questions on and off the court. This hunger to learn and better herself is evident, and so far it has paid off. She dropped 14 points in the preseason game against Minnesota, just 2 less than leading scorer Kelsey Plum. In the Aces season opener against the Phoenix Mercury, Sheppard drained both 3-point shots she attempted.
If there's one word that comes to mind when thinking of Sheppard, it's love, for the love in which she shows the game and her supporters is undeniably felt. She collaborated with The SWVA Shop, a lifestyle brand in Southwest Virginia, to drop a collection of merchandise featuring the phrase “LoveDay” on it. This is Sheppard’s term for game day, and serves as reminder of the positive impact basketball has had on her life. "I've seen a lot of kids come and go and they may be great players but you can tell they don't really love it the way players like Aisha [do],"said her high school coach Jonathan Scribner.