COP­PER HAS BEEN READY FOR THIS

FOR­MER BENCH PLAYER SHIN­ING IN START­ING ROLE FOR SKY

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

Sky guard Kahleah Cop­per be­lieves in the power of rep­e­ti­tion. That’s why ev­ery sin­gle day, some­times mul­ti­ple times a day, she makes sure to get in her shots.

“I think work­ing on my game is im­por­tant be­cause when op­por­tu­nity comes you’re al­ready con­fi­dent in your game, you’re con­fi­dent in what you can do,” Cop­per said. “So it’s just a mat­ter of be­ing al­ways ready.”

That pre­pared­ness has paid div­i­dends for Cop­per this sea­son. She has gone from be­ing a key player off the bench in 2019 to one of the Sky’s most im­por­tant play­ers in the “Wub­ble.”

With Di­a­mond DeShields on re­stricted min­utes be­cause of knee in­flam­ma­tion that has both­ered her all sea­son, Cop­per has thrived in her ex­panded role, post­ing ca­reer highs across the board. The fifth-year vet­eran, who has started all 13 games this sea­son, is av­er­ag­ing 14.3 points, 4.5 re­bounds and 1.8 as­sists. She’s also shoot­ing 51.7% from the field, com­pared to 38.7% in 2019, and she’s con­vert­ing on 39.5% of her shots from three­p­oint range, com­pared to 30.6% last year.

Cop­per’s suc­cess as a starter isn’t a sur­prise to coach James Wade.

“If there’s any­body who ex­pected [this], it was Kah and my­self,” Wade said ear­lier this sea­son. “We talked about this [dur­ing free agency] — the op­por­tu­nity she would have and how we felt that peo­ple were sleep­ing on her a lit­tle bit. That’s the rea­son she was a big pri­or­ity for us this off­sea­son.”

Cop­per, who al­ways ac­cepted her role as the spark of the sec­ond unit, said it’s sat­is­fy­ing to see the hard work she has put in over the years pay off.

“It makes you really trust your process, no mat­ter what it is,” said Cop­per, whom the Sky ac­quired from the Mys­tics as part of the Elena Delle Donne trade in 2017. “I think that just stay­ing con­fi­dent and just stay­ing ready and trust­ing your process, it’s very re­ward­ing and it feels good.”

The WNBA passed the half­way mark of its 22-game sea­son this week, with the Sky at 9-4 af­ter beat­ing the Lib­erty on Thurs­day. Though the Sky sit atop the Eastern Con­fer­ence, they’re a mid­dle-of-the-pack team when com­pared to the rest of the league, rank­ing fifth over­all en­ter­ing Fri­day. (Play­off seed­ing is based on a team’s record com­pared to the rest of the league, not where it fin­ishes in the con­fer­ence.)

The Sky know the im­por­tance of tak­ing care of them­selves dur­ing this ab­bre­vi­ated sea­son. Wade pre­vi­ously said he’s hope­ful that the team — al­ready with­out Jan­tel Laven­der (foot surgery) — can get health­ier to make a push down the stretch, though DeShields went down with a quad in­jury Thurs­day.

That said, the Sky are go­ing to con­tinue to rely on play­ers such as Cop­per to el­e­vate their games go­ing for­ward as DeShields and Ste­fanie Dol­son work to re­turn to full strength.

“We’re go­ing to keep on mov­ing for­ward and try to di­ver­sify [Cop­per’s] game and make her a more com­plete player,” Wade said. “But we’re sat­is­fied with her progress, so we’re just go­ing to keep go­ing.”

Cop­per wel­comes the chal­lenge. And she be­lieves she still has un­tapped po­ten­tial to un­lock this sea­son.

“I’ve been con­sis­tent,” she said. “I al­ways have more to give, al­ways. I think I could be bet­ter de­fen­sively, and the of­fense will come, but I’m cool with where I am. I can al­ways get in and out. I’ll get bet­ter ev­ery day.” ✶

Sky guard Kahleah Cop­per is av­er­ag­ing 14.3 points, 4.5 re­bounds and 1.8 as­sists per game this sea­son. PHE­LAN M. EBEN­HACK/AP

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