These past two and a half years have been a whirlwind for the Chicago Sky. In 2021, they fought back from the brink of uncertainty to win their first WNBA title. Last season, they charged through the season full of hype and expectations only to be dethroned in the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun. Now, they are heading into the 2023 season with a whole new makeup of talent that is raring to prove everyone wrong and push back against the notion that they are in a state of “rebuilding.”
ESPN’s preseason power rankings put Chicago at No. 10. With a collection of players that includes a mix of returners and newbies, it’s uncertain if the Sky will make the playoffs. There are a few notable returners that will be looked at as models for the team’s success considering their recent achievements.
Out of the starters from last year, which included Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, it is only guard/forward Kahleah Copper who will be back in the lineup. Last year, the All-Star led the team in scoring (15.7 points per game) and posted considerable numbers in both assists and rebounds, showcasing herself to be a player who can do a little bit of everything.
Known for her blue-collar style of play where she puts her body on the line for her team, Copper has been given the status of team leader by head coach/general manager James Wade and her teammates. It is a title that she is more than happy to embrace.
“I’m like the player’s leader,” she said. “I’ve had experiences that are relatable and I can relate to players on a level of process of not playing or a process of coming to a new team or having to be a big-time leader. So I think I’m relatable and I’m a competitor and I have championship experience.”
Guards Rebekah Gardner and Dana Evans, as well as forward Ruthy Hebard, are returning players who came off the bench last season and were able to generate solid performances overall. Gardner in particular became a bit of a fan favorite with her exuberant style, which includes great ball movement, outside precision, an inside game and rebounding. She averaged 11.5 points and seven rebounds and is now looking to not just let her game do the talking for her but to be more vocal.
Evans, who averaged 4.3 points, 1.2 assists, and 11.5 minutes in 33 appearances last year, has shown herself to be a player who can step up when given the opportunity. Now she is looking forward to ascending to a much greater role that others can look up to.
“I want to be that person they can lean on even if I’m not in the game,” she said. “I know what’s going on, I’m talking, I’m always communicating and helping people out and putting people in positions.”
Hebard, who welcomed a son, Xzavier, a few weeks ago, has been working to strike a balance between motherhood and playing. She credits the support from the team and the recent league collective bargaining agreement that provides expanded maternity leave with helping her to do that. Coming off a season where she, much like Evans, didn’t see too many minutes and only averaged 2.3 points, Hebard is now expected to step up and contribute more.
Among the league veterans coming in to fill in the gaps left behind from the core group include center Elizabeth Williams, guard Courtney Williams, forward Isabelle Harrison, and guard Marina Mabrey. Each of them brings a more than well-rounded level of experience that includes postseason play and overseas endeavors that can help establish a newfound team chemistry and move the Sky forward.
Plus there is a unique blend of trading off offensive and defensive skill sets that these players possess that are very much what Wade looks for.
Speaking of Wade, he says he is ultimately looking forward and not backward given all the changes, while also keeping with his simple philosophy of creating space for all to come in and have a chance to thrive.
“We are a team that loves to play with and for each other,” he said. “We just do things a certain way and that’s it.”
The Sky have played two preseason games against the Dallas Wings and Indiana Fever, losing against Dallas and winning against Indiana. They will be heading to play against the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday in Toronto, Canada. The game has sold out (an estimated 20,000 tickets) and is looked at as a potential step toward league expansion to Canada.
The Sky’s first game of the regular season will be in Minnesota next Friday at 8 p.m. ET.