It’s tempting to think the Chicago Sky can ride the backs of veteran guard Epiphanny Prince and rookie forward Elena Delle Donne all season.
Both looked unstoppable at times during a 102-80 blowout win at Phoenix in the season opener on Monday. Prince poured in a game-high 26 points on 6-of-9 three-pointers while Delle Donne had 22 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in 36 minutes.
The reality is that the Sky, which plays its home opener Friday at Allstate Arena against the Connecticut Sun, will need contributions from all 11 players if it has any hope of shedding the massive monkey on the franchise’s back.
In its seven years, the Sky has never made the playoffs, and it remains the only franchise in WNBA history to not make the postseason. On top of that, the Sky has never finished a season with a winning record.
Third-year head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman outlines how each player on the current team can make sure that changes in Year 8.
• Courtney Vandersloot: 5-foot-8 PG, 3rd season, Gonzaga
What Sky needs: Must make better decisions, keep her turnovers down and handle physical defenses.
Chatman: “This is her third year and she’s turning the corner. I can tell she’s been in the weight room. She’s picked up 15 to 18 pounds of muscle. Her defense is better, her strength is better. That’s going to help us. I know she can pass the ball and score the ball, but it stands out that she’s better (physically).
• Sharnee’ Zoll-Norman, 5-foot-7 PG, 2nd season, Virginia
What Sky needs: To be a reliable backup to Vandersloot, who needs breaks from handling the ball.
Chatman: “She is the consummate point guard, always pass-first. She can run a team. She’s vocal and she’s a student of the game.”
• Epiphanny Prince: 5-foot-9 SG, 4th season, Rutgers
What Sky needs: To be a go-to scorer, to create shots for herself, to be a reliable 3-point shooter, and to defend an opponent’s best perimeter player. She will miss seven games in June and July to play for the national team in Russia. She’ll need to be able to rejoin the Sky seamlessly.
Chatman: “She’s a prolific scorer, long-range, midrange, paint-range. She’s also gotten better with her defense. She’s just someone that you’ve got to have on the floor.”
• Allie Quigley: 5-foot-10 SG, 5th season, DePaul
What Sky needs: To hit 3-pointers consistently to keep the floor spaced so Sylvia Fowles can work inside. Must be ready for extended minutes when Prince leaves for Russia.
Chatman: “She’ll be a surprise for people, but not for us. She can shoot it and has such a quick release. But she’s also good off the bounce and I think people will be surprised with her speed and athleticism.”
• Shay Murphy: 5-foot-11 SG/SF, 7th season, USC
What Sky needs: An offensive and defensive spark off the bench. A streaky shooter from long-range, she also can be a nuisance on defense.
Chatman: “I can tell her comfort and confidence is there. She can stretch the defense and help our spacing on the floor. She rebounds well for someone her size. And she’s not afraid to mix it up defensively.”
• Tamera Young: 6-foot-2 SF, 6th season, James Madison
What Sky needs: To bring her lockdown defense to every game and to attack the lane on offense.
Chatman: “She’s that gritty, get-in-your face defender who also goes after loose balls and offensive rebounds. She’ll dive on the floor. I love that.”
• Swin Cash: 6-foot-1 SF/PF, 12th season, Connecticut
What Sky needs: To be a leader in the locker room and on court, and to hustle defensively and on the boards.
Chatman: “She’s a pro’s pro. She understands the game like a coach and she communicates that so effectively (to teammates). And she’s a fighter and a smart player.”
• Elena Delle Donne: 6-foot-5 SF/PF, 1st season, Delaware
What Sky needs: To do a little of everything. She must pull defenders away from the basket with her outside shooting to make room for Fowles in the paint. She needs to bang inside and defend perimeter and post players. She must grow up quickly and limit rookie mistakes because she will be play a lot.
Chatman: “She has a special skills set that gives a little bit of breathing room to everything you try to do. She can do everything, inside/outside, and the quality that people don’t talk much about is that she is a really good passer.”
• Michelle Campbell: 6-foot-2 PF, 1st season, Rutgers
What Sky needs: A strong defender who is relentless on the boards.
Chatman: “She’s that power forward dog. And that’s a compliment. She’s that dog that you need, setting tough screens and being there in help and offensive rebounding, doing all the tough little things. She’s tough.
• Carolyn Swords: 6-foot-6 C, 3rd season, Boston College
What Sky needs: To be a quality backup to Fowles, who can get into foul trouble. Swords must be strong on defense and active on the boards.
Chatman: “She’s solid, she’s going to set the right screens and be in the right places. She’s improved so much since last year.”
• Sylvia Fowles: 6-foot-6 C, 6th season, LSU
What Sky needs: To stay healthy, despite all the abuse she takes in the paint. A healthy Fowles should be an automatic double-double every game. Fowles must also be an intimidator defensively with her shot-blocking capabilities.
Chatman: “The beast. Sylvia is really, really fit right now and she’s moving well. She’s looks good. She looks like she looked when I came here a couple years ago. She’s bouncy and going with her right hand and left hand and extending and blocking shots. The new defensive three-second rule will be good for her because the defense can no longer sit in her lap.”
Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
• Patricia Babcock McGraw also is a courtside reporter for Chicago Sky broadcasts.