Even in tenth season, Chicago Sky still experiencing firsts
It's the start of the 10th season of Chicago Sky basketball, and this franchise is still experiencing firsts.
For the first time ever, the Sky will play the role of "the hunted," rather than "the hunter."
After winning the Eastern Conference and advancing to the WNBA Finals last season for the first time in franchise history, the Sky, which has since brought in one of the best players in the league in guard Cappie Pondexter, returns as one of the top contenders in the WNBA.
The Sky will get a test right away against its long-time nemesis, the Indiana Fever, which is led by new coach Stephanie White, a former Sky assistant, as well as former Stevenson star Tamika Catchings. Tip-off for tonight's season opener 7:30 p.m. at Allstate Arena.
"(Being the hunted) really doesn't change things for us in terms of how we approach things, other than the fact that we need to be aware that teams are coming for us," said point guard Courtney Vandersloot, now in her fifth season. "We're really not going to be that underdog anymore, which we have been since I've been here, really.
"No one really expected us to ever do much before, so this is good for us. It gives us a little bit of confidence. And it's nice to have that respect a little bit. I think we've worked hard for that here. It hasn't come easy and I think we deserve it."
The combination of Vandersloot and Pondexter give the Sky a rock-solid backcourt. Vandersloot is the consummate point guard with a pass-first mentality while Pondexter can score from anywhere on the floor and is a gamer. She wants the ball in her hands at crunch time.
Elena Delle Donne and Tamera Young will start at forward, giving the Sky one of the best offensive forwards and one of the best defensive forwards in the league, respectively.
Delle Donne, the Sky's leading scorer last year, missed a majority of the season due to a bout with Lyme disease and a back injury, but now she is healthy and ready to go. Young, in her eighth season, says she's in the best shape of her life.
"I feel like I'm in a great place," Young said. "I played a lot in Brazil over the off-season and got a lot of good conditioning. The couple of years before this I sat out (in the off-season) and didn't play anywhere and I just think I'm in better shape. My body feels really good right now. I feel different. I feel like I can be a key player to our success and I think this team looks really good. We're ready for a really good season."
What the Sky wasn't ready for heading into this season was the departure of all-star center Sylvia Fowles, who spent all seven years of her career in Chicago. She recently demanded to be traded to the Minnesota Lynx and has said that if a trade can't be negotiated, she will sit out the entire season.
That leaves a gaping hole in the middle for the Sky. Head coach Pokey Chatman will likely split time at center between veteran Sasha Goodlett and rookie Cheyenne Parker. One of the Sky's top reserve centers from last year, Markeisha Gatling, was waived on Wednesday.
"Cheyenne is working her way (toward a starting spot)," Chatman said. "But you don't want to rush the experience factor. We'll put her in a position to be successful because it's really not about the start, it's about the finish."
And speaking of finishes, the Sky is hoping it will finish with another first, a WNBA championship. It's a goal that seems to be more tangible than ever.
"It's nice being talked about. Really nice. We're excited about it," Chatman said. "But we've been relevant for a nano-second. So we know this won't be easy. But it is fun to be in the conversation."