Chicago Sky championship eludes LA-bound Pondexter

Cappie Pondexter ran out of time.

Like most Chicago Sky fans, I was pulling for her.

Pondexter, a Chicago native, was a high school basketball superstar here when the sport was enjoying some of its best years in popularity and quality. She had a fabulous college career at Rutgers and has been a staple among the WNBA's elite players for a decade.

Two years ago, in the twilight of her professional career, Pondexter was brought back to Chicago to play for the Sky, after four years and two championships with the Phoenix Mercury and five years with the New York Liberty.

When I interviewed Pondexter after one of her first practices with the Sky, she said her No. 1 goal was to win a WNBA championship for her hometown team, just as she won a state championship with Chicago Marshall High School as a sophomore in 1999.

On Wednesday, Pondexter, a free agent, signed on with the Los Angeles Sparks, presumably the last stop of her WNBA playing career.

In 2015, Pondexter had every reason to be optimistic about a championship run in Chicago. The Sky was coming off an appearance in the 2014 WNBA Finals with one of the best young players in the league in Elena Delle Donne. Pondexter was seen as the missing piece for the Sky, which lacked a savvy veteran with championship experience.

But the Sky lost its first-round 2015 playoff series to the Indiana Fever, winning only one game.

And in 2016, the Sky also had a quick playoff exit, winning just two games. After that season, Delle Donne demanded to be traded and went to the Washington Mystics, and the Sky fired head coach Pokey Chatman, who had brought in Pondexter. Amber Stocks then was hired as head coach.

Last summer seemed to be a struggle for Pondexter, who may have grown weary of all the changes and become frustrated physically. She also missed games due to injury.

Now only three Sky players remain from that 2016 roster: Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Cheyenne Parker.

I wish Pondexter the best. Like former Bulls star Derrick Rose, she probably feels there is unfinished business here. It's a shame she wasn't able to realize her dream of winning a title in her hometown.

Chicago Sky guard Cappie Pondexter, right, wasn't able to win a WNBA title with the Chicago Sky. Now the Chicago native will play next season with the Los Angeles Sparks. Associated Press/2017 file

Rising from Down Under:

It has been a relatively quick recovery for Northern Illinois guard Courtney Woods.

And an amazing one, too.

Woods, a junior for the Huskies, was flat on her back sick last fall with mononucleosis. So sick that her mother was summoned to DeKalb from Australia to be her full-time caregiver as she recovered.

Now, just months later, Woods is a serious candidate for Mid-American Conference player of the year.

"It was the worst case of mono I had ever seen," Northern Illinois coach Lisa Carlsen said. "She was in bed for six weeks, a couple of trips to the emergency room, too. She was doing nothing. Up until about two weeks before the season was going to start, we were thinking seriously about having to redshirt her."

Good thing that didn't happen, as Woods has been a horse for the Huskies. She leads the MAC in scoring at 21.8 points per game. She has had two 39-point games, and a 37-point game. And she is one of the leading 3-point scorers in the MAC, connecting 72 times this season.

"Courtney's recovery has been amazing," Carlsen said. "She's had a great season. I really marvel at it, and everything she does for us."

Tournament time:

It's almost basketball tournament time, and some of the best teams in the country will be in Chicago in early March.

DePaul will host the Big East Conference tourney March 3-6 at its new Wintrust Arena in the South Loop. For tickets, contact the DePaul Athletics ticket office at: (773) 325-SLAM.

• Patricia Babcock McGraw also works as a basketball color analyst for games involving DePaul University, the Big Ten, Chicago Sky and Illinois High School Association. Follow her on Twitter @BabcockMcGraw.

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