Some toll tales in ’20

Headed to play­offs in com­pli­cated sea­son, Sky play­ers vow to fin­ish strong un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances

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

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.’ ” ✶

PHE­LAN M. EBENHACK/AP

For­ward Gabby Wil­liams says the play­off-bound Sky un­der­went a lot of changes, but the play­ers have to ap­pre­ci­ate what they still have.

Cheyenne Parker

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