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updated: 5/12/2017 6:48 PM

Revamped Chicago Sky embracing change as season begins

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  • Sky veteran Cappie Pondexter wants to ease fans' uneasiness as the 2017 season opens without superstar Elena Delle Donne and coach Pokey Chapman, both of whom departed in the offseason. "Change is always a good thing. It's a matter of how you embrace it," Pondexter said.

    Sky veteran Cappie Pondexter wants to ease fans' uneasiness as the 2017 season opens without superstar Elena Delle Donne and coach Pokey Chapman, both of whom departed in the offseason. "Change is always a good thing. It's a matter of how you embrace it," Pondexter said.
    Associated Press

 
 

So technically, 88 percent of the Chicago Sky's core of top players from 2016 is back in 2017.

And yet, the 2017 Chicago Sky has a completely different feel.

Guess that's what happens when a franchise loses its franchise player and its most successful head coach in franchise history in one off-season.

Gone is Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA most valuable player who unceremoniously forced a trade several months ago. She is with the Washington Mystics now.

And gone is Pokey Chatman, the longtime head coach that led the Sky to its first playoff appearance and first WNBA Finals run. She is the head coach of the Indiana Fever now while Amber Stocks has taken over as the Sky's fifth head coach in franchise history.

Delle Donne and Chatman were the faces of the Chicago Sky for the last four years.

And now that has changed. The torch has been passed. To whom ... well, that is the question. And it may take some time to get an answer, which is a bit unnerving considering that the Sky's season opener is on Sunday in Minnesota. The first home game is next Friday (7:30 p.m.) against Atlanta at Allstate Arena.

But, not to worry Sky fans, veteran Cappie Pondexter, a Chicago native and as likely a candidate as anyone to become that new face of the Sky, wants to ease your, well, uneasiness.

"Change is always a good thing. It's a matter of how you embrace it," Pondexter, now in her 12th season, said at media day on Wednesday. "It's like in life when change happens or breakups happen or you get a new job. If you do embrace it, it could be a really good thing.

"I'll just tell you this: we compete. Our practices are competitive against each other and against the (practice) guys. And Coach (Stocks) is just really sharp and really positive and she's always talking about us empowering one another. We're going to be a very balanced team with a lot of people who can contribute. I like our pieces."

Pondexter thinks this Sky team could get significant contributions from more players than in seasons past, in spite of the fact that top draft pick Alaina Coates from South Carolina is out with an ankle injury until further notice and improving point guard Jamierra Faulkner, a part-time starter last season, is out for 2017 with a knee injury.

On the bright side, the Sky returns veteran guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley as well as defensive bulldog Tamera Young. And Jessica Breland, a versatile forward with a nice jumpshot, is hoping to be healthy this season.

Imani Boyette returns after a spectacular rookie season. The 6-foot-7 center was a serious shot-blocker and made the WNBA's all-rookie team.

Meanwhile, several new faces have stood out in training camp.

Center Stephanie Dolson will provide immediate help. She was one of the better bigs in the league last season. She came to Chicago in the trade for Delle Donne, as did Kahleah Copper, who has also looked impressive in the preseason.

"Kahleah Copper is a superstar unfolding before our very eyes," Stocks said at media day. "She can do so many different things. On top of that, she's enthusiastic, she loves the game and she loves to compete.

"And Stephanie (Dolson) is a fabulous leader and appreciates the importance of team and that's evident in how she plays both offense and defense. She'll be a great compliment to Imani Boyette and it's been exciting to see those two learn each other and watch them play together."

Another new face who is expected to make a big impact is former DePaul star Keisha Hampton, who was injured at the end of her career at DePaul and has had to slowly work her way back into WNBA shape through stints in Europe.

"Keisha is a great shooter, she's known for that," Stocks said. "She's also one of our go-to defenders. I think it shows a lot about Keisha's heart for the game that she has (stuck with her dream of making it to the WNBA). Keisha is hungry and she is only going to get better."

Hampton has averaged 11.5 points per game over the Sky's two preseason games, a win over the New York Liberty and a loss to the Connecticut Sun. Pondexter was also at 11.5 ppg while Young was the Sky's only other double-figure scorer (10.5 ppg) in a role off the bench.

Vandersloot and Quigley haven't been in camp yet. Their off-season teams in Turkey are competing against each other for the league championship there. They will likely be late to the party in Minnesota, but the Sky is hoping they'll be back for the home opener.

Everyone else has been in camp, and there seems to be a good vibe so far. Even a newbie like Dolson recognizes it.

"Training camp has been going really well, for me … and I think for everyone," Dolson said. "The team, there is just a great chemistry with us. This team has so much fun on and off the court. And you don't always get that.

"So far, we just seem to be clicking. And there are so many different combinations we can be successful with. That's pretty exciting."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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