The Chicago Sky and free agent forward Swin Cash failed to come to terms on a contract in the offseason. Cash was eventually traded to Atlanta days before the seasons tip off, but prior to that happening Chicago had already moved on.
Sky Head Coach and General Manager Pokey Chatman's first target was forward Jessica Breland. Breland was drafted by Minnesota in 2011 and bounced around the league spending time in Connecticut, New York, Washington, and Indiana.
Last season in Indiana Breland saw her minutes increase due to the rash of injuries that plagued the team. The former North Carolina Tar Heel put up modest numbers of 5.3 points and 4 rebounds in thirty games. But the 6'3" Breland was fourth overall in blocks per 40 minutes behind the much taller Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage, and Breland's new teammate Sylvia Fowles.
"When I signed Jessica in free agency I made the comment about her ability to play at the rim," Sky Head Coach Pokey Chatman explained to Swish Appeal. "I know sometimes you might think it's "coach speak" but that's what she does. Even though she may give up 12-to-15 pounds she gets nice separation and her timing is really good so she can contest a lot of shots. The ones that are really impressive are the ones that she blocks when she's helping her teammates. That's something I like to think I can teach but I don't. That's just instinct, effort, and that's good stuff that we can definitely build on."
Jessica Breland has become the perfect replacement for Swin Cash. She is second in the WNBA in blocks per game (2) and fourth in rebounds (11.4). Breland is averaging a double-double and holding down the paint while center Sylvia Fowles recovers from hip surgery. Breland also plays the four spot, which allows Delle Donne to play her natural position at small forward - a mismatch for most opposing threes.
Swish Appeal spoke to Jessica Breland about her decision to sign with the Chicago Sky, playing alongside Elena Delle Donne, and transitioning to being a full-time starter for the first time in her career.
Swish Appeal: How would you say your transition to Chicago has been so far?
Jessica Breland: Pretty good. At first it was kind of rocky but the girls are great, the coaching staff is great, and they made it a lot easier than it would normally be.
SA: What was the rockiest part?
JB: Different role. Coming in here and being more of a primary player rather than a bench player, that's a big adjustment. And the coaching styles between Coach Lin and Coach Pokey are like two different extremes. I'm trying to adjust to that. Even now I find myself going through the plays rather than playing.
SA: Right now you're in the top five in blocks and rebounds in the league. Do you feel like finally getting big minutes is allowing people to see what you can really do on the court?
JB: Yeah. Time on the court always helps, huh? We play well together. We haven't been together that long but we play like we're a veteran team and we're really young. We mesh really well together and that's probably one of the biggest things for me with my success right now.
SA: What led to your decision to come to Chicago?
JB: It was really difficult between Indy and here. It was two different roles. Do I want to go back and play behind Catch again or do I want to go and possibly figure out things on my own? I think Catch is a great person and a great player. It was difficult for me to say no to that situation because I would've gotten better there too playing behind an All-Star like Tamika Catchings. It's just two different things so I was like, I'm just going to trust in God and believe that he will direct the right path for me.
SA: What exactly has Pokey told you that your role is on this team?
JB: She hasn't really come out and said, "Hey Bre, this is what it is." To me I feel like just bringing energy and trying to clear up the boards - do the little things that don't show up on the stat sheet. I think that's what she likes a lot about me because I try to bring that to the team. It's not all about scoring. Scoring is good, you gotta put the ball in the basket, but basketball is about little things too like defense, rotating, rebounding, and getting on the floor. I just try to focus on that day in and day out.
SA: What's it like playing with Elena Delle Donne?
JB: It's great. Open shots [laughs]. I think she's a great person and a great player. She's kind of young too but you couldn't tell by looking at her on the court because like I said, she's a great player. I think she's a phenomenal person.
SA: Have you thought about what it'll be like when Big Syl comes back? Between you, Syl, and Elena it's going to be hard to score against you guys in the paint.
JB: Yeah. I look at us now and I'm like, 'wow'. When you have the thought of Syl coming back it's like, cool! We can really do some things. We're going to be really big and Syl can move up and down and laterally really well as well. I think me and her might be fighting for some rebounds though [laughs]. I think that's a good thing at the end of the day.
SA: Last season you played in Indiana, the team that eliminated Chicago in the playoffs. What do you think Chicago needs to get over that hump and be a championship team like the Fever?
JB: That's a really good question. I think kind of what we're doing now, just playing off of each other, playing with a lot of energy and helping each other. I don't think anybody is selfish on the team. We all want each other to do well and we put each other in right positions to succeed. I think just continuing to do that and at the end of the season when we get down to the playoffs it's going to come down to who is the better team, who can play well together, and who is going to fight for it. We like each other enough to fight for each other and it's just going to continue to grow.
SA: What's your personal goal for this season?
JB: Yeah, at the end of the season I want to look at myself at the beginning and say, "Wow, I grew." if that means going for the Most Improved Player of the league, then maybe so. Awards are not what I'm looking for out of everything but if we could get through the playoffs that would be great for me. I guess that's more like a team thing, but for me personally just growing. I feel like I have potential to get a lot better than what I am now and I'm waiting to see that. It' kind of scary but I'm just letting go and letting God lead me.