Sky looking to make signing emerging star Cheyenne Parker a priority

  • Chicago Sky head coach James Wade protests a call during a game in 2019.

    Chicago Sky head coach James Wade protests a call during a game in 2019. ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
 
Updated 1/23/2021 12:31 PM

Suddenly, soccer is all the rage in James Wade's house.

Normally, it's all basketball.

 

Wade, head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky, is married to Edwige Lawson-Wade, a former WNBA player who is the director of basketball operations for a EuroLeague women's team in France, BLMA, which operates in Montpellier, where the Wades live most of the year.

Even Jet Wade, the couple's 5-year-old son, was basketball crazy until recently.

"During the pandemic, Jet suddenly fell in love with soccer," James Wade said with a nervous chuckle. "He was a good little basketball player and he was on a club, but all of a sudden he stopped playing. His coach called to ask where we've been.

"But it's all about soccer now for Jet. He's a fanatic. He's fallen in love with soccer. He loves FC Barcelona. It's fine, but I told my wife, I'm not giving up on basketball yet."

For now, Wade is happy to entertain conversations about soccer with his son. But the rest of the day, basketball continues to be on the brain, and lately, it's front and center.

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It may be the middle of the WNBA off-season, but free agency arrives Feb. 1 and Wade, who signed a four-year extension with the Sky last week, has his work cut out.

On the top of Wade's to-do list is re-signing forward and unrestricted free agent Cheyenne Parker, who continues to improve her stock and had a breakout season last summer in the bubble in Florida.

Parker, who completed her sixth season, all with the Sky, posted career numbers in 2020. She averaged 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, both career-highs, while averaging a career-high 25 minutes per game. In addition to leading the Sky in rebounds, she was the second-best shot-blocker (0.9 bpg).

Three years ago, Parker was averaging 3.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12 minutes.

"Cheyenne is very important to what we want to do," Wade said. "I love it that we've seen big leaps from her every year. And she's added things every year, like shooting the 3 and better decision-making. She is our primary focus (in free agency). We want her to identify with the Chicago Sky."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Signing Parker would give the Sky five bigs for 2021. Parker, who started 13 of 20 games in 2020 would join Stefanie Dolson, Ruthy Hebard, Stephanie Mavunga and Azura Stevens.

Signing Parker would also give the Sky 10 players under contract, allowing for just one open roster spot that could be filled by a 2021 draft pick or guards Sydney Colson and forward Alexis Prince, players currently on the roster but listed as an unrestricted free agent and a reserved player, respectively.

The Sky also retains the rights of rookie forward Maria Conde, who is sitting out the 2021 season to compete with the Spanish national team.

"After we sign Cheyenne, we have space for only one player so it's going to be competitive," Wade said. "We've got the draft, we've got a few players in free agency that we have on the radar and Prince and Colson could be competing for spots."

As for trades, Wade isn't actively pushing the idea.

"It would be irresponsible not to be open to things and right now, my phone is blowing up," Wade said. "I'll always answer the phone, I'll always take calls if it means making us better. But I'm pretty convinced with the team we have. I think we have a solid team."

Last year, the Sky finished 12-10 in the regular season, good for sixth place and a playoff berth.

The Sky was bounced after the first round of the playoffs but were hamstrung all season with injuries to multiple players, including starters such as Dolson and star guard Diamond DeShields, who played in only 13 games, averaged 17 minutes and scored about 7 points per game, far below her 2019 average of 16.2 points.

"Diamond is good now," Wade said. "She's in the gym, she's working with a trainer and in a good place now."

The Sky is hoping for the same in 2021. And their "good place" would be at home playing in front of their fans at Wintrust Arena.

Training camp is slated to begin in late April in Chicago.

"Even with everything that happened last year, the WNBA did a good job of putting everything together in the bubble, and we had a successful season," Wade said. "We're all hoping to be home this year because we're excited to show that we aren't happy with how last season ended.

"We know we could have been better and we aren't satisfied. We're anxious to get back at it."

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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