Sky point guard Vandersloot rising to the top
Even the pros doubt themselves sometimes.
Chicago Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot didn't always believe she was cut out for the WNBA.
"It was really a big adjustment for me," Vandersloot said of transitioning from college ball at Gonzaga to the WNBA. "And I was like, 'I don't know if I belong.' "
She knows now. Everyone does.
In her seventh pro season, Vandersloot is having a career year, and is arguably the league's premier point guard.
Vandersloot is the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week after posting back-to-back games with double-figure points and assists last week. Her third game in a row with double-figure points and assists this season set a league record. She's now at five games in a row with a double-double after racking up 21 points and 10 assists in a win over San Antonio on Thursday.
Vandersloot, who has the Sky in playoff contention with her sharp play, leads the WNBA in assists (7.9 per game) and is third on the Sky in scoring (11.3 points per game).
"Numbers-wise, this might be my best season and I'm enjoying it," Vandersloot said. "I know it sounds cliché, but I really just want to win. I am happy, though, that both are happening.
"The style that we're playing (up-tempo and a freedom for Vandersloot to create), it's fun.
"I like getting people involved and seeing people making shots. That's exciting for me. The fact that I'm scoring at the same time is just kind of a bonus.
"The ball is in my hands a little more now. The show is kind of run through me a little more. It's more of an opportunity."
Vandersloot got plenty of opportunities in her rookie season when she started 26 of 34 games in 2011.
That didn't mean she was comfortable, though. She said she felt outsized, outmuscled and out-quicked.
She wasn't expecting such a big jump from college basketball, where she was the national point guard of the year. That was why she questioned her place in the WNBA.
"Not to say anything bad and I don't want to bash my conference (West Coast Conference) or my school (Gonzaga), but I played in a smaller conference and it was a big jump when I got to the pros," Vandersloot said. "It's always a jump no matter what from college. But then when you go from where I was playing and you're playing the Stanfords and the UConns maybe once a year instead of all the time, I just didn't have the competition or the physicality or the speed.
"Luckily I had coaches who believed in me, and this team (Sky) that has always believed in me. And with hard work I've continued to get better. And now, seven years into the league, I'm seeing again what I was my senior year."
As a senior at Gonzaga, Vandersloot was the first Division I player (female or male) in NCAA history to finish with 2,000 points and 1,000 assists for her career.
Vandersloot says the biggest difference between making that kind of impact in college versus in the pros is strength. After years of getting pushed around in her WNBA career, Vandersloot has committed to the weight room in recent years. Almost excessively.
"I love it, I'm addicted to it," Vandersloot said. "I'm not the strongest, but I lift every single game day, which people think is crazy. I do it overseas, too.
"It's just that I know that I'm a better player when I'm stronger. When I don't lift, that's when my shot is all messed up. It's part of a routine now for me. Part of being a professional is knowing what's good for your body and what you can do for your body that will make you better. That kind of stuff I had to learn, and I didn't know that early in my career."
Vandersloot says she learned the most important part of being a point guard at a very early age:
"Everyone is looking at you always, even when you don't want them to," Vandersloot said with a laugh. "If you're the hardest worker and you're having fun with it, people are going to jump on board. That's the biggest thing."
• Patricia Babcock McGraw also works as a basketball color analyst for games involving DePaul University, the Big Ten, the Big East, Northern Illinois University, Chicago Sky and the Illinois High School Association. Follow her on Twitter @BabcockMcGraw.