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updated: 5/7/2014 3:17 PM

Sky has its sights focused on WNBA title

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  • Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne (11) says she has added 12 pounds of muscle to help her battle more effectively in the upcoming WNBA season. Delle Donne was the WNBA rookie of the year last season.

      Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne (11) says she has added 12 pounds of muscle to help her battle more effectively in the upcoming WNBA season. Delle Donne was the WNBA rookie of the year last season.
    Associated Press/2013 file

 
 

Oprah used to encourage her viewers to create a goal board, a poster of goal-oriented words and pictures, perhaps cut from a magazine, to hang in a noticeable spot.

People who can see and touch their goals every day, she reasoned, are more likely to reach those goals.

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Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman made her version of a goal board ahead of training camp, which began last week. She hung it below the scoreboard at Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield, where the Sky practices.

It's a big picture of the WNBA championship trophy.

"Oprah does that? I didn't know about that," Chatman said with a laugh. "I like that. I think you've got to put big ideas like that out there. You want to talk about confetti, you want to talk about championships. You might not talk about it every day. But sometimes you do. And you definitely work at it every day."

For years, the Sky worked at simply getting to the playoffs. And last summer, it happened for the first time in the eight-year history of the franchise.

After getting swept in the first-round last season, reaching the playoffs won't be enough this year. At least not for Chatman. Hence, the picture under the scoreboard.

"I don't want to work on getting to the playoffs, I want to work on winning a championship," Chatman said. "That's why we're putting that (idea) out in front of (the players)."

Chatman can push her lofty agenda with confidence. She returns a talented core, headed by veteran guards Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot as well as last year's WNBA defensive player of the year, center Sylvia Fowles, and forward Elena Delle Donne, the league's rookie of the year.

Unlike most stars who play overseas during after the WNBA season, Delle Donne stayed in Chicago and worked relentlessly on the finer points of her game. She said she also worked hard the weight room, gaining about 12 pounds of muscle to help her combat the physical WNBA game.

"I remember last year at training camp I felt exhausted and so sore and I felt weak. I'm not dealing with any of that this year," Delle Donne said. "Teams were trying to wear me down. They knew that as the game would progress, I would get tired and lose steam and it was the fact that I wasn't able to endure a full game. That wasn't OK with me.

"As soon as the season ended, I was asking the coaches when I could start lifting. I knew I needed to get stronger."

Delle Donne may need that strength to carry more of the workload - at least early on. One concern for the Sky at this point is the health of Fowles, who had hip surgery to repair a torn labrum on the right side. She will be sidelined until mid-June, at the earliest.

"It was a situation of wear-and-tear over the years and it finally caught up to me," said a bubbly and already very mobile Fowles, who is entering her seventh WNBA season. "It's taken care of now and I really don't have any concerns with it. I wasn't even nervous about the surgery. I was more excited, more relieved. I had gotten to the point where I was so tired of being in pain. I was ready to get it done. I feel really good now and I can't wait to get back."

With Fowles out, Chatman will look to several new faces for help. She took 6-foot-5 North Carolina State center Markeisha Gatling in the first round of April's WNBA draft. Gatling could get more playing time than most rookies. Second-year centers Sasha Goodlett (6-foot-5) and Avery Warley (6-foot-3) could also help inside.

Meanwhile, there's another void for Chatman to fill. The Sky and veteran forward Swin Cash could not come to terms on a contract and have parted ways. Cash started every Sky game the last two seasons.

Tamera Young and Allie Quigley, both of whom came off the bench last year, could step into that starting spot.

"We do have question marks. Syl (Fowles) is an obvious one. And Courtney (Vandersloot) and Piph (Prince) haven't even gotten to training camp yet because they're still playing overseas," Chatman said. "But once we get everyone here, we can start filling in, and I think we have some really good new pieces.

"We have some size and some people who can really get a piece of the paint, and we have some people who can get up and down the floor. We have a lot of interesting new players."

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