Courtney Vandersloot is no stranger to historic firsts.
At Gonzaga University, she made history as the first Division I basketball player — male or female — to score 2,000 points and dish 1,000 assists in her career.
When she hit the WNBA in 2011 as the first-ever draft pick out of Gonzaga to sign with a team, she quickly became the first Gonzaga player to appear in a WNBA All-Star Game and was voted to the 2011 WNBA All-Rookie Team.
And on Friday night, in front of her home fans, she became the first Chicago Sky player to notch a triple-double, collecting 15 assists, 13 points and 10 rebounds. It was just the seventh triple-double in WNBA history, and the first of 2018.
The most baffling part about Vandersloot’s historic career, though? Her first All-Star selection in 2011 remains her only one. She hasn’t been voted to a team since.
In light of her continued omission from the annual game that showcases the best the league has to offer, let’s break down Friday’s triple-double and take a look back at Vandersloot’s college and WNBA careers.
The Wings’ 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage is the WNBA’s second-leading rebounder on the season, averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game. Friday night, she was fresh off a record-setting two games during which she collected 88 points and 27 rebounds. Near the beginning of the game, the ease with which her teammates were able to find her for the score was evident, even as the Wings struggled to collect assists in general.
Enter 5-foot-8 Vandersloot, whose quickness and court vision shone to the point that she not only out-rebounded Cambage (who finished with 5 rebounds) for the game, but she also out-rebounded everybody on the floor, including her own teammates. With 3:26 remaining in the game, Vandersloot pulled down her game-high 10th rebound.
Asked postgame how it was possible that she’d never had a triple-double in her basketball career, Vandersloot said, laughing, “I can’t rebound like that!”
Triple-double? NO PROBLEM for @Sloot22! ️— WNBA (@WNBA) July 21, 2018
Check out her best moments from tonight's performance (13 PTS, 15 AST, 10 REB) as she scores the SEVENTH triple-double in #WNBA regular season history! #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/j8yHuAeFN7
As a player known for being able to work with the height she’s got, winning the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award in 2011 (which went to the best college basketball player 5-foot-8 or shorter), hearing her stat line from Friday must have raised some eyebrows.
But when everything else is going so well, why not double up one of the best rebounders in the game, too?
With a career-high of 26 points and a 2018 season-high of 20 points, the 13-point line that Vandersloot achieved Friday was, objectively, the most unremarkable part of her night. In fact, it wasn’t even her highest point total of the week, as she collected 15 points in the Sky’s July 15 game against the Liberty.
How Vandersloot excelled, though, was through her efficiency. She’s not known for taking many shots — her career-high for shots attempted in a game is 18, whereas teammate Diamond DeShields easily attempted 17 shots Friday night — but during Friday’s game, she took full advantage of the opportunities she had.
.@Sloot22 showing her presence on all sides of the court pic.twitter.com/vydVXtk0dc— Chicago Sky (@wnbachicagosky) July 21, 2018
After quickly hitting double figures in assists — her 10 assists in the first half is a new WNBA record — Vandersloot sunk 2 three-point shots in the third quarter to reach 9 points, then made two free throws in the fourth to break into double figures. For the game, she went 4-5 from the field, 2-3 from beyond the arc and 3-4 from the free throw line.
Vandersloot is a scoring point guard, if an underrated one. Last month, she reached her Gonzaga record-setting milestone as a professional, scoring her 2,000th point to go with over 1,000 assists. She also hit the assists mark first in college, then reached the 2,000-point mark in the second round of the NCAA Tournament her senior season to complete the set.
Truly, it’s not that Vandersloot can’t score — it’s just that she’s usually far too busy making sure her teammates score first.
Vandersloot’s assists performance was clearly the most historic part of her triple-double, though among longtime fans and followers, it was by far the least surprising.
She missed tying Ticha Penicheiro’s WNBA record of 16 assists in a single game, sure. But she set a new Chicago Sky record with 15 assists, breaking her own record of 14. Her ability to find players in highlight-reel fashion also contributed to the Sky-record 114 points.
After the game, Vandersloot credited both the pace of the game and her teammates — who literally made her assists count as they put together a 56.8 percent shooting percentage — for her performance.
”Right from the start I wanted it to be a really fast-paced game, and that obviously starts with me,” she said. “You know we can run. We have a lot of runners on our team, and when we play fast like this, we’re pretty good in transition.”
More broadly, Vandersloot increased her league-leading assists per game mark to 8.0, just .1 away from the WNBA-record 8.1 assists per game that she set last season. Her 5.6 career assists per game is also good for second on the all-time list, second to Penicheiro (5.72), who was Vandersloot’s Chicago teammate in 2012.
”I don’t want to dramatize it too much, but she’s like [Wayne] Gretzky in hockey,” said retired NBA player and fellow Gonzaga alum John Stockton in 2011. “There is something that separates Courtney from others.”
@Sloot22 dishing it around like she's the league leader in assists. pic.twitter.com/Y8lUtMxsZA— Chicago Sky (@wnbachicagosky) July 21, 2018
In spite of her massive success, Vandersloot stays grounded, illustrated by a New York Times profile of her that was published at the end of her senior year at Gonzaga. Vandersloot was asked when she realized she had above-average court vision, and she responded simply.
“I don’t think it was very long ago,” she said. “I really just assumed I was getting all of the assists because of the people I was surrounded by.”
Every player who made the WNBA All-Star team in 2018 deserved the honor, full stop. It’s just that with so many solid players every year — especially in a season that is widely considered one of the best in league history — it’s much easier for players without mainstream superstar recognition to be left behind.
But for Vandersloot to be snubbed for seven years after her one and only All-Star Game appearance, years where she proved herself to be one of the most prolific point guards in the game, broke records and was an integral part of sending her team to the playoffs, borders on unconscionable.
Put simply, the WNBA and its fans need to start recognizing one of the best point guards the league has ever seen, in the same way that Gonzaga fans and Chicago Sky fans have for the past 11 years. Vandersloot’s career stat line alone is testament to her continued high-level consistency, but choosing to watch her play on a regular basis, seeing her at her best, should seal the deal for any naysayers.
All that said, Vandersloot is just happy to be in the league, All-Star or not.
¨There’s a lot of players that should be in the league that aren’t. We just don’t have the spots for them,” Vandersloot told the Spokane, Washington newspaper The Spokesman-Review last week. “I just continued to work hard, did things the right way and now this is my eighth season for the same team. I’m proud of that.”