Some toll tales in ’20
Headed to playoffs in complicated season, Sky players vow to finish strong under difficult circumstances
Entering their game Monday against the Fever, the Sky felt depleted. They were on a two-game losing streak. Injuries continued to pile up. They lost Azura Stevens (season-ending knee injury) and Diamond DeShields (personal reasons), who left the bubble in Bradenton,
Florida, last weekend.
The Sky had a nine-player roster, which they temporarily augmented by signing free-agent forward Alisia Jenkins to a sevenday contract four hours before tipoff.
In guard Kahleah Copper’s eyes, the Sky had one of two options: “You’re going to come out and lay down or you’re going to come out and throw the first punch.’’ Ultimately, they settled on the latter. Led by Courtney Vandersloot’s recordbreaking 18 assists, rookie Ruthy Hebard’s first career double-double and Gabby Williams’ season-high 21 points, the Sky blew past the Fever, who were 5-10 entering that game.
That was an example of the Sky at their best. When they’re moving the ball, playing both ends of the court and getting everyone involved, the Sky can be one of the best teams in the league.
“That’s what we need,” coach James Wade said. “We need everybody locked in. I felt like we kept on, we stayed persistent in what we wanted to do.”
This condensed 22-game season has been the ultimate grind on the body and the mind, said forward Cheyenne Parker, who scored a team-high 17 points in the Sky’s 79-69 loss to the Mystics on Friday.
Players are playing most of their games on one day of rest. That’s part of the reason the Sky have been plagued by injuries. But the mental and emotional toll has been greater.
Sports took on a very different look when they resumed during the global pandemic. In the bubble, players can’t have their family and friends visit, leaving some feeling isolated. They’re also playing during a summer of racial reckoning ignited by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and, most recently, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Parker said this season “has been unlike any season I’ve had in the pros so far.” But she finds strength in knowing that she can lean on her teammates on and off the court for support.
“There’s so much negativity going on in the world and around us that it’s hard to stay positive-minded,” Parker said. “So I’ve been trying to stay positive-minded, thinking about the good, changing my perspective on things. And I think that as a team, we came to that understanding, as well.”
The Sky (11-6) clinched a playoff berth for a second consecutive season. With three games left, they’re trying to find the strength to end the regular season on a strong note and set the tone for the postseason.
“This is the time when we really have to dig deep and find that mental strength that’s talked about,’’ said Parker, who injured her right ankle last month. ‘‘The rest of the season, it’s going to be hard for all of us . . . . Physically, I’m not 100% still. But I’m still going to give it my all every night out there. So that’s what we need to do to get it done, staying mentally strong and getting through the aches and pains.” They’ll rely on each other for support. “We just have to appreciate what we do have,” Williams said. “A lot of changes happened within our team. James [Wade] was like, ‘This is what we got. And I love what we have. So let’s embrace it.’ ” ✶
Forward Gabby Williams says the playoff-bound Sky underwent a lot of changes, but the players have to appreciate what they still have.