Haunted to hunter

Sky set sights high af­ter heart­break­ing loss to Aces in the playoffs last year

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

The Sky open their pan­demic-short­ened sea­son Sun­day against the Aces in a re­match of last sea­son’s sec­on­dround play­off game.

They were haunted all off­sea­son by Dearica Hamby’s game-win­ning 40-foot des­per­a­tion shot off a turnover. And though coach James Wade be­lieves the shot shouldn’t have counted be­cause Hamby al­legedly stepped out of bounds, the Sky are us­ing the heart­break­ing end to last sea­son as mo­ti­va­tion.

“Last sea­son left us all with a sour taste in our mouth, and al­though we did ac­com­plish our goal of mak­ing the playoffs, ob­vi­ously we have our sights set on some­thing greater, and that’s a cham­pi­onship,” Di­a­mond DeShields said. “I would just set the bar there for our team. If you’ve al­ready made the playoffs, what’s next to do? That’s to just go all the way. If we get to the fi­nals, it’s not enough just to play in the fi­nals. We want to win ev­ery­thing.”

With the playoffs no longer a goal but an ex­pec­ta­tion, here’s a primer for the Sky’s 2020 sea­son:

The big­gest ques­tion: Will DeShields take her game to the next level in Year 3?

By re­tain­ing the core of last sea­son’s 20win team, the Sky sent the mes­sage that they’re go­ing all in on DeShields, who will be vi­tal to the team’s suc­cess.

“We’re go­ing to lean on her to con­tinue to grow in our sys­tem,” Wade said. “You’ve only seen the be­gin­ning of what she could be, so hope­fully she can step into that role and keep on grow­ing as a po­ten­tial star in this league.”

Com­ing off a break­out sea­son in which she av­er­aged a team-high 16.2 points, DeShields used the pro­longed off­sea­son to sharpen ev­ery di­men­sion of her game. She put an added fo­cus on her de­fense and three-point shoot­ing. She also wants to be more ef­fi­cient this year af­ter she shot 39.9% last sea­son, a dip from 2018.

Can DeShields go from an All-Star in 2019 to an MVP can­di­date in 2020? We’ll find out.

Po­ten­tial break­out star: Azura Stevens

Wade said he was count­ing on for­ward Azura Stevens to have a big sea­son be­fore news broke that Jan­tel Laven­der is out for the year. Now there’s even more pres­sure on Stevens to be­come a big-time con­trib­u­tor in 2020.

Stevens has strong de­fen­sive in­stincts and is a shot-block­ing ma­chine. A foot in­jury limited her to only nine games last sea­son. But now that she says she’s 100% healthy, Stevens has the po­ten­tial to be the Sky’s start­ing four.

“She has a very high up­side,” Wade said. “There aren’t many play­ers in the league with her skill set, size and mo­bil­ity.”

Bold pre­dic­tion: Kahleah Cop­per makes a run for Sixth Woman of the Year

Kahleah Cop­per pos­sesses the elite speed and ath­leti­cism that could make her a starter on other WNBA teams. But the ver­sa­tile guard has ac­cepted her role as the spark plug of the Sky’s sec­ond unit as she plays be­hind a trio of All-Stars.

Cop­per is com­ing off an out­stand­ing over­seas cam­paign in Poland. As a starter, she av­er­aged 17 points and eight re­bounds in EuroLeague play. It’s her hope that she can carry over the con­fi­dence she gained in Poland.

“It’s just bring­ing my swag . . . to the team, know­ing what I can of­fer to this team and know­ing what­ever I can do to make the team bet­ter,” Cop­per said. “And what­ever I can do, if I do it well, it will ul­ti­mately help the team.”

If Cop­per can build off last sea­son’s suc­cess, she could vie for Sixth Woman of the Year. ✶


Di­a­mond DeShields says the Sky should be aim­ing for noth­ing less than a WNBA cham­pi­onship.

Kahleah Cop­per

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