There’s a huge sign hanging outside Allstate Arena touting the Chicago Sky’s involvement in the WNBA playoffs, which begin Friday against the Indiana Fever.
Center Sylvia Fowles and rookie Elena Delle Donne are pictured in gigantic fashion, as they should be, considering how big they’ve played all season. They’ve led the Sky, which missed qualifying for the playoffs for seven seasons, to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Guard Epiphanny Prince isn’t pictured, but she has given the Sky the necessary “Big Three” that most championship teams have.
What often gets lost in the stat sheets and promotional materials is how well veteran Swin Cash has played this season. Despite putting up some of the more modest numbers of her 12-year career, Cash has paid huge dividends.
“I keep saying that I wanted to change the culture here,” said Cash, a three-time WNBA champion who joined the team before last season. “It’s been work to get here, but I’m really happy with it now.”
Cash has shown her biggest value in the locker room and in the huddle. As the oldest player and only member with any significant playoff experience, Cash has been the influential voice and the sage leader every team needs.
“Swin is by far the best leader I’ve ever been in the presence of,” said Delle Donne, who was taken under Cash’s wing as soon as she arrived here. “We couldn’t be here without Swin. Her role is huge on this team. I would argue it’s the most important role on this team.”
Cash, who is averaging less than 10 points per game (9.4 ppg) for the first time, knew she would have to adjust her mindset this season. Any physical and statistical contributions would be welcomed and appreciated, but it was her mental and psychological counsel that the Sky saw as a crucial part of her job.
“At first it was a little humbling because I came from a different situation with other teams where I was asked to do a lot more (statistically),” said Cash, who recently wrote the book, “Humble Journey: More Precious Than Gold,” which chronicles the public and private side of her career. “But for what this team needed, I knew I needed to take that leadership role.
“Down the road, no one’s going to remember how many points you score or what your other stats are, but people do remember championships. And I want another ring. I want to help this team get a ring.”
Sometimes, Cash is the only player who will talk on the bench during timeouts. She frequently gathers her teammates into mini-huddles on the court, and has addressed them in the locker room and on the team bus as well.
And then there’s her work with Delle Donne. She’s been like a personal mentor and second mother to her.
“Swin has helped me so much this season to grow and to learn. She’s always talking to me, telling me really good things to know,” Delle Donne said. “Day one of training camp, I didn’t know the drills, I didn’t know anything. But Swin would have her arm around me and say ‘Just watch me, and you’ll be doing the same thing.’
“She’s kind of just been there the whole time helping me, just kind of like she’s holding my hand. The way she’s a leader is just a great way. She’s approachable. There are some leaders who will lash out at you. Not Swin. She’s got your back. She knows when you need tough love, but she also knows to coddle you when you need it.”
Big picture, Cash’s message has been about changing mindsets, about getting players who have never been to the playoffs before to believe in themselves and to make mental toughness a priority.
“It’s really not about one person’s voice, it’s about everyone believing in the system and buying into a different culture,” Cash said. “But that being said, I am really happy that the Sky allowed me to come in and help a little bit in my own way.”
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.