At this time last year, Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman was riding high. The #2 pick, Elena Delle Donne out of the University of Delaware, immediately proved herself a valuable team asset as she helped defeat the Phoenix Mercury and the #1 draft pick in 2013, Brittany Griner.
Backed with center Sylvia Fowles, guard Epiphanny Prince, Courtney Vandersloot, and Tamera Young, the team finished atop the Eastern Conference with a 24-10 record. The Sky earned the top seed in the East and faced Indiana (16-18) in the first round of the playoffs, where they were swept.
Delle Donne was named Rookie of the Year, and Fowles, Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2014, it's a different story.
It's been a dramatic few weeks in the life of Chatman, who's starting her third season as coach. The team begins its regular season Friday night at Allstate Arena against their erstwhile Achilles heel, the Indiana Fever, who swept them in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. Tipoff is at 7:30 pm.
Fowles underwent arthroscopic surgery of the hip to repair a torn labrum and impingement and is out for an unspecified length of time. Prince went home for 'personal reasons' and will miss the opening game. Of the high scorers and playmakers, it will be up to Elena Delle Donne to carry the team for awhile.
A week and a half ago, veteran WNBA player and championship ring-bearer Swin Cash was traded to the Atlanta Dream along with a 3rd round draft pick next year. In return, the Sky acquired second year player Courtney Clements and the Atlanta Dream's 2nd round pick in the 2015 WNBA draft.
"Scared? No, I'm not scared," Chatman insisted in a phone chat. "It's exciting. This situation gives other players a chance to step up. Courtney Vandersloot, Tamera Young, the rookies...everyone has a chance."
Why on earth would someone trade a proven player, averaging 9.3 points per game? During the 2013 season, Clements averaged 2.2 points per game and 0.9 rebounds per game. She also appeared in four playoff games for the Dream.
I give credit to Chatman for honesty. "We couldn't come to terms on her contract," she said. "Swin wanted a multiyear deal. We couldn't offer her more than a one year. So we had to trade her. I'm looking forward to the new additions to our team"
In the offseason, Chatman made several moves "to focus on the goal of a WNBA Championship," according to their press release. Fowles' recuperation puts additional pressure on the Sky's newest player, center Markeisha Gatling of North Carolina State, who was picked 10th overall at the WNBA draft.
New additions also include two former Indiana Fever players Jessica Breland and Sasha Goodlett, who signed with the Sky as free agents in April. The duo of Breland and Goodlett contributed a collective 16.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game throughout the preseason. Breland is coming off a breakthrough performance against the Mystics, in the Sky’s final game of the preseason, where she delivered 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
The 2014 Sky roster now includes:
Gennifer Brandon F 6-2 164 11/23/1980 California
Jessica Breland F 6-3 170 02/23/1988 North Carolina
Courtney Clements G 6-0 157 11/12/1989 San Diego State
Aaryn Ellenberg G 5-7 122 07/19/1992 Oklahoma
Jamierra Faulkner G 5-6 141 03/09/1992 Southern Mississippi
Markeisha Gatling C 6-5 255 07/14/1992 North Carolina State
Sasha Goodlett C 6-5 239 08/09/1990 Georgia Tech
Allie Quigley G 5-10 140 06/20/1986 DePaul
Tamera Young F 6-2 170 10/30/1986 James Madison
Sky captain Delle Donne will look to continue where she
Sky captain Delle Donne will look to continue where she left off last season after being unanimously selected as the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year and becoming the first rookie in WNBA history to win the All-Star vote.
So far, the Sky has enjoyed a remarkably successful preseason. Chicago and Indiana squared off in the first-ever WNBA Preseason Tournament in Orlando on May 9. The Eastern Conference Sky defeated the Fever 73-66 to advance to the Championship Game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where they lost to the Western Conference' Minnesota Lynx, the 2013 WNBA Champions, who had previously defeated the Phoenix Mercury. In the Sky’s final preseason game in Delaware on Tuesday, Delle Donne, the former University of Delaware Blue Hen, delivered 17 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in a 79-66 victory over the Washington Mystics.
That said, with two of three playmakers out of commission, the Sky’s defensive intensity needs to be the point of emphasis heading into the 2014 home opener.
The team is hosting a Career Fair beginning at 4:30 Friday afternoon. For more information, visit the Chicago Sky's website for more information.