'Next coach up' - Sky moves on after Wade's sudden departure
Coaches come and coaches go. Usually not like this.
The Sky faced a daunting task when returning to the practice court this week after a sudden change in leadership.
Fifth-year head coach and general manager James Wade resigned abruptly to take a job with the Toronto Raptors. Sky assistant Emre Vatansever was named interim coach and GM.
"It's just overwhelming," Vatansever said this week after a practice in Deerfield. "It's not just coaching part, it's also GM part. I would have never thought I was going to take over the GM part too.
"We always tell the players when somebody gets injured, 'Next man up.' Now, 'Next coach up.'"
Wade stepped away last Saturday, a day off between two games. Vatansever already won his official coaching debut as the Sky beat Indiana on Sunday. He also went 2-0 while filling in for Wade last season.
"I think we have to pull together because if not, it can explode kind of quick," Sky forward Morgan Bertsch said. "I think we're doing a really great job of just buying into any changes that are coming our way, buying into what Emre is trying to do, because when everyone's on the same page is the only way it's really going to work."
Vatansever, 40, began his coaching career in his native Turkey and landed a spot with Galatasaray, where he helped coach a who's who of WNBA stars. He also met and married former Stanford basketball player Kristen Newlin, which prompted him to seek a job in the U.S.
He attended the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2015 and landed a role with the Seattle Storm. Not as a salaried assistant coach, though. He was an intern for three seasons.
"I had to start where I started at 17 years old in Turkey," Vatansever said. "So I had to get in the film room, I had to break down a lot of things, I didn't get paid."
He joined the Sky coaching staff in 2018 under Amber Stocks. He arrived one year before Wade.
As surprising as it was, no one with the Sky seems unhappy about Wade's resignation. The players acknowledge it was a great opportunity to work in the NBA.
"It was out of nowhere," Vatansever said. "We were trying to figure out how to play better and stuff like that. All of the sudden, he came up with this. He said, 'I have this opportunity' and we were so happy for him. Just support, nothing but the best for him."
Wade had been telling people to give this team some time to blend together, since most of the roster is new. After a six-game losing streak, the Sky has won three in a row and sits at 8-9 heading into Friday's home game against Atlanta.
"He (Wade) put a very solid team together that has stars in every position," Vatansever said. "Of course I have some different coaching style and I'm going to put those wrinkles in there, but it's not drastically major changes. We're still going to play the same."
One of the Sky veterans, 6-foot-4 forward Ruthy Hebard, is planning to make her season debut Friday. She's been getting back into basketball shape after giving birth to a son in April. This is Hebard's fourth season with the Sky and admitted having mixed feelings about Wade's departure.
"For me, just super sad," Hebard said. "(Wade) drafted me. A lot of ups and downs in the last four years, but super-proud of him and happy for him. It's always hard to lose someone you love."