Coach: What we can learn from our WNBA champs, the Chicago Sky

  • Candace Parker, right, a standout for the Sky and back during her time playing at Naperville North High School, was more than just the superstar: She's a solid player. And Joliet native Allie Quigley, center left, has proved to be one of the team's most consistent players as well.

    Candace Parker, right, a standout for the Sky and back during her time playing at Naperville North High School, was more than just the superstar: She's a solid player. And Joliet native Allie Quigley, center left, has proved to be one of the team's most consistent players as well. Associated Press

  • Kahleah Copper started her career with the Sky playing from the bench. But through a lot of hard work and determination, she became one of the team's clutch players.

    Kahleah Copper started her career with the Sky playing from the bench. But through a lot of hard work and determination, she became one of the team's clutch players. Associated Press

  • Sky veteran Courtney Vandersloot was one of the players key to bringing Chicago the WNBA championship.

    Sky veteran Courtney Vandersloot was one of the players key to bringing Chicago the WNBA championship. Associated Press

  • Jon Cohn

    Jon Cohn

 
 
Posted10/28/2021 6:00 AM

OK, so maybe the adrenaline kick has worn off just a bit from the championship celebration, and many of our local sports fans have moved on to baseball playoffs, NBA basketball, college football, and a sport you may have heard called NFL football.

But before we completely put to rest a wondrous and oh-so-rare Chicago championship, I thought it might be worthwhile to look back at a few take-aways from this truly special team.

 

What did we learn?

We certainly learned that women's basketball can be pretty exciting! The talent, strength, quickness, athletic ability, and basketball acumen these players possess is unquestionable. As a longtime season ticket holder, I have been witness to this multiple times and needed no convincing myself, but often I would be disappointed when only a couple thousand fans would show up for most games.

Then suddenly, during the playoff run, the crowds were huge! Sold out for the final few games, which was amazing to see.

Not to kill the buzz, but part of me was asking where everybody had been? And are we so addicted to winning that fans couldn't appreciate coming to games in previous years? Still, and despite all that, it was great so many of our Chicago sports fans were finally finding out how exciting the women's game could be.

Quigley & Vandersloot: Special players

We learned about Courtney Vandersloot and Joliet native Allie Quigley and how special they are. The cameras may have followed Candace Parker for much of the postgame celebration, but they shouldn't have (no offense to Candace; I will get to her later). This was Quigley and Vandersloot's team, and everyone should have seen their moment of final exultation. Both have been with the team for many years, through all the ups and downs, a lot of drama, and some tough seasons, for sure. Along the way, no doubt, they had opportunities to go to other teams to try, as they say, a "change of scenery." But Vandersloot and Quigley stayed the course, not giving up on their dreams of bringing Chicago a championship.

Many in the screaming fandom at the final game probably don't even remember that, two years ago, on the cusp of going to the WNBA championship with just seconds remaining, Courtney threw an errant pass that was intercepted. Then at the last second, a ridiculously wild, off-balance, half-court shot actually went in, ending the Sky's chances. Heartbreak doesn't come any tougher than that.

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Oh, how sweet that final victory must have been for the two of them, and I can only imagine their joy in finally raising that trophy.

Copper: Never be satisfied

We learned from Kahleah Copper to never be satisfied with where you are. Copper came to the team as the "third wheel" in the trade from Washington for Elena Delle Donne. The Sky's big prize in the trade was the No. 2 overall draft choice -- which didn't pan out -- and also Stephanie Dolson. Copper was a bit of "throw in," and through her first few years with the Sky was strictly a complementary player coming in off the bench. But Kahleah wasn't satisfied with that; she believed in herself and her abilities and kept working.

Slowly but surely, she got more minutes and more playing time. Finally last year, she had her breakout season becoming a primary scoring threat for the Sky and a legitimate WNBA star. This year? More of the same and finals MVP, need we say more?

Stevens: The missing piece

We learned from Azura Stevens, that sometimes all the pieces have to fit for a team to be successful. Stevens proved to be perfect in the starter role, the missing piece, that lifted them to another level. She hit big shots, got key rebounds and willingly defended some of the WNBA's best post players.

Dolson: Accepting a role

We learned from Stephanie Dolson the value of accepting a role. The former UConn superstar, known for her spirit and fun-loving style -- not to mention language that's sometimes so "salty" it might blow your recommended daily allowance of sodium -- certainly came through in the most crucial of moments. Normally a starter for the Sky, Dolson played off the bench during the stretch run and hit big shots both inside and out and set "heard from the rafters" vicious screens on opposing players, helping to get open shots for the Sky guards

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wade: A picture of class

We learned that a coach doesn't need to be screaming, hollering, and pacing up the sidelines all the time to be effective. Head coach James Wade was the picture of class and composure throughout the playoffs. You could tell the players respected him, and that he truly cared about the them; they responded in kind. Over the team's 25 years of existence, the Sky have had many coaches, none quite filling the bill perfectly. In Wade, finally, they found the right leader.

Alter: Staying the course matters

We learned of perseverance and dedication from their Owner Mike Alter. To put it as gently as possible, this has not been a moneymaking venture in the least for Alter. Instead, it has been a labor of love and like Quigley and Vandersloot, something he would not give up on even through the toughest of times.

A couple decades ago, Alter rather innocently got invited to a WNBA game in another city. He went and saw how exciting the game was, then wondered why Chicago did not have a team. It started as innocently as that.

Alter stayed the course over these many years and continued the mission to bring a winner to Chicago. At long last, he was able to raise the hardware high above his head.

Crosby: Hard work matters

Another person we learned dedication and perseverance and hard work from was Ann Crosby. Very few know who see is, but I have observed her over the years. She is the strength and conditioning coach and now has basketball operations added to her title. I don't know all what she does behind the scenes, but watching her at games, it is quite clear that nobody -- player, coach or administrator -- works harder or is more vested in the Chicago Sky team. Crosby lives and breathes Sky blue and gold and, no doubt, was a major part of this team's journey and ultimate success.

Parker: More than just a superstar

Finally we learned from Candace Parker a couple of things. One, was that there is more to scoring than being a superstar. While Parker hit big shots, (her late three, with exaggerated follow through and subsequent look to the fans, was classic), it was her passing and, even more so, her rebounding that was key to the Sky getting on their playoff run. Any basketball aficionado will tell you Parker's tough rebounds, in traffic, contested, often "out of space" were a big part of the team's winning and neutralizing the opponent offensive attempts.

The other thing we learned from Candace, a Naperville North standout, is how much winning a championship in your hometown can mean to an athlete (Allie Quigley also is one of our very own!). The sight of Parker fighting off tears of joy as the game was still going on, realizing in those precious final seconds that her team would accomplish what looked impossible just a month ago, was truly sports at its most personal and most emotional.

It shows you how much it means to these athletes, and remains a visual I won't soon forget.

So as we move on to our daily lives and other beloved sporting ventures, take a brief moment and let the luster of this special group of players linger on just a bit.

The lessons they taught us go way beyond just a championship trophy.

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email jcsportsandtees@aol.com.

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