With two of the “3 to See” on hand, WNBA fans will get a good look into the future of the league today in Phoenix.
The Chicago Sky will open its 2013 campaign against the host Mercury (4 p.m., ESPN2) — and the game features two of the WNBA’s brightest young stars.
Rookies Elena Delle Donne of the Sky and Brittney Griner of the Mercury, along with Skylar Diggins of the Tulsa Shock, have been billed as the WNBA’s “3 to See” this season. Long heralded for their spectacular college careers, they were the top three picks of April’s WNBA draft, with Griner going first and Delle Donne second.
Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 hybrid who can move like a guard and jostles like a post player, took Delaware from obscurity to a national ranking and a run into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-8 Griner, a legitimate dunker, won a national title with Baylor and Diggins, a savvy point guard, took Notre Dame to consecutive Final Fours.
“This is the next step in what everyone has been anticipating for so long from those three,” said third-year Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who is trying to lead the Sky to its first playoff berth in eight seasons. “Everyone wants to see them play at this level and against each other. They all did so much to take their college programs to new heights. What we’ll all be watching for is what they do next. There’s a lot of anticipation there.”
Delle Donne seems to have settled in seamlessly both on and off the court. She shot well and had a game-high 17 points in the Sky’s preseason win over the New York Liberty nearly two weeks ago.
“I have thrown so much at Elena because she can be at three different positions. There’s a lot she needs to know,” Chatman said. “The first couple days of practice, I think she was like, ‘Whoa!’ But since then, it’s been like, ‘Bam, bam, bam.’ She’s picking up everything so quickly and she’s practicing well and she’s looking good. She tells me all the time that she’s learning so much and that she absolutely loves coming to practice.”
Delle Donne also says she loves Chicago and her new life, which certainly can’t hurt her production on the court.
“She’s always talking about how she loves her apartment and the city and how all of her teammates are so nice and helpful and how everyone is always looking out for her,” Chatman said. “I think Elena is really fitting in here. She’s enjoying herself.”
Although fans might enjoy seeing Delle Donne and Griner go head-to-head today, that likely won’t happen much. All-star center Sylvia Fowles will draw the Griner assignment.
That matchup should be just as good. While Griner is the “big, new thing,” the 6-foot-5 Fowles is healthy (unlike the end of last season when she was battling foot and leg injuries), and is one of the best centers in the world. In fact, Griner says she looked up to Fowles as she was growing up.
“It will be a great battle between those two, a great battle of wills, and just one more thing to motivate Syl this season,” said Chatman, who says Fowles is also determined to lead the Sky to the playoffs and to get back to the way she played two years ago when she was healthy and averaging 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds per game.
“I’m always telling Syl things like, ‘You’re the two-time Olympic gold medal winner and the veteran and everyone’s talking about Brittney Griner, not Sylvia Fowles.’ I think Syl likes that challenge and I think this will be a classic matchup between the two, this time, and for many years.”
The final Sky roster of 11 players became official last week, featuring a few new faces from last year.
Besides rookie Elena Delle Donne, shooting guard Allie Quigley, point guard Sharnee’ Zoll and forward Michelle Campbell join the team. Quigley, a WNBA journeywoman the last five years, starred at DePaul and is best known for her 3-point shooting. Campbell has played professionally in Europe since graduating from Rutgers in 2006 and Zoll played at Virginia and has one year of WNBA experience. She missed all of last season because of an ACL knee injury.
To make room for the newbies, Chatman made two particularly tough cuts in training camp when she parted ways with veteran center and former Notre Dame star Ruth Riley and young forward Sonja Petrovic. Chatman had coached Petrovic for years in Russia.
Odds are, the Sky’s starting five in Phoenix will be: Courtney Vandersloot at point, Epiphanny Prince at shooting guard, Elena Delle Donne at small forward, Swin Cash at power forward and Sylvia Fowles at center.
A special Women’s Watch will run in conjunction with Friday’s Sky home opener against the Connecticut Sun. Pokey Chatman gives her take on each of the 11 players on the roster and what they must bring to the table this season in order for the Sky to finally make the playoffs.
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