SORRY TO BURST YOUR BUB­BLE

LIGHTER MOMENTS ASIDE, SKY ARE SE­RI­OUS ABOUT THAT TI­TLE IN 2020

Chicago Sun-Times - - SKY BEAT - BY MADE­LINE KEN­NEY mken­ney@sun­times.com @mad­ken­ney

Since WNBA play­ers ar­rived in Braden­ton, Florida, ear­lier this month, the big story has been how they’re set­tling into their new lives in a bub­ble ahead of a pan­demic-short­ened 22-game sea­son.

The Sky have used bi­cy­cles to get around cam­pus and have held game nights to help with team bond­ing. Guards Di­a­mond

DeShields and Syd­ney Col­son — who hasn’t yet joined the team af­ter she tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus late last month — have joked about start­ing their own “Chameleon Catch­ing Club,” in which they’ll “safely re­move lizards from your dwelling and lov­ingly re­lease them out­side,” ac­cord­ing to a tweet by Col­son.

But in spite of the fun and games chron­i­cled on so­cial me­dia, let’s get one thing clear: They’re not there for amuse­ment.

“The Chicago Sky is not here on va­ca­tion,” DeShields said. “We came here to play bas­ket­ball. We came here to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship.”

Given the cir­cum­stances of this short­ened train­ing camp and sea­son, the Sky are poised to do just that. Com­ing off 20 wins in 2019, they are one of the more well-rounded and es­tab­lished teams, hav­ing kept most of their ros­ter in­tact even as many top WNBA tal­ents switched teams dur­ing free agency. The Sky are hop­ing to use fa­mil­iar­ity that other teams are lack­ing as an ad­van­tage.

“That’s the bless­ing about our team — we came into this sea­son al­ready a co­he­sive unit,” said DeShields, who led the Sky in scor­ing with an av­er­age of 16.2 points last sea­son. “We didn’t make too many ros­ter changes. Ob­vi­ously, [cen­ter Jan­tel Laven­der] isn’t here [af­ter foot surgery], and we added [for­ward Azura Stevens] and [guard] Stella [John­son] and [for­ward] Ruthy [He­bard], but as far as team co­he­sive­ness, we’re pretty solid there.”

While chem­istry is im­por­tant, there are sev­eral other teams loaded with tal­ent that could foil the Sky’s plans to win their first ti­tle. Ham­pered by in­juries last sea­son, the Storm are wel­com­ing back 2018 MVP Bre­anna Ste­wart and 11-time All-Star Sue Bird. The Mer­cury will have a healthy Diana Taurasi and Sky­lar Dig­gins-Smith in the mix this sea­son, and the Sparks also are stacked with All-Stars.

The Sky were ranked sev­enth in ESPN’s lat­est power rank­ings, one spot lower than they were on the pre­vi­ous list.

Coach James Wade ad­vised his play­ers to ig­nore the out­side noise. Dur­ing a prac­tice this week, he called them into a hud­dle and had a sim­ple mes­sage.

“We don’t have no ceil­ing,” Wade said. “We’re the [ex­ple­tive] Sky — there ain’t no ceil­ing on the Sky.”

Wade doesn’t like to pub­licly set goals for the team. Asked what suc­cess would look like this sea­son, he kept it vague.

“What it would look like, if you were talk­ing about me coach­ing this group, is for us to get ev­ery­thing out of what we could — and I don’t know what that means as far as play­offs, cham­pi­onships, but I could tell you once we get there.”

A lot of Wade’s play­ers are more di­rect about where they see them­selves.

“This team is a cham­pi­onship team,” for­ward Cheyenne Parker said. “And this year is go­ing to be a re­ally good year for us.”

Added guard Court­ney Van­der­sloot: “We all sac­ri­ficed to be here, you know? Time with our fam­i­lies, away from our pets, away from im­por­tant things that we want to do. And so we’re go­ing to make the best of it, and we’re here to win a cham­pi­onship. I think that’s mo­ti­va­tion.” ✶

NED DISHMAN/GETTY IM­AGES

Di­a­mond DeShields (right) and the Sky will have co­he­sion on their side dur­ing an ab­bre­vi­ated sea­son in Florida.

James Wade

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