SKY STILL MAKE POINTS

DE­SPITE EARLY PLAY­OFF EXIT, PLAY­ERS PLEASED WITH ROLE IN FIGHT­ING SO­CIAL IN­JUS­TICE

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

Wed­nes­day was a dif­fi­cult day for the Sky. Many still had to pack their bags af­ter their first-round loss to the sev­enth-seeded Sun. They weren’t ex­pect­ing to leave the bub­ble in Braden­ton, Florida, so soon.

Less than 24 hours af­ter be­ing elim­i­nated from the play­offs, the play­ers said their goodbyes and went their sep­a­rate ways. Most won’t see each other again un­til train­ing camp next spring.

“This is bit­ter­sweet,” Kahleah Cop­per said. “I wish this ended dif­fer­ently. But I was just happy that we got to be here and used our plat­form to just speak out on so­cial in­jus­tices and play bas­ket­ball.”

The 94-81 loss Tues­day was just as heart­break­ing as the fin­ish to last sea­son, when the Aces hit a nearly half-court shot in the fi­nal sec­onds of a sec­ond-round game.

“We re­ally wanted to win that game,” Court­ney Van­der­sloot said. “We didn’t do enough . . . and that’s a tough pill to swal­low for us.”

What’s even tougher is that the Sky had a real chance to make a run for the ti­tle be­fore in­juries got the best of them down the stretch.

The Sky be­gan the sea­son with a 10-4 record — their best start since 2013 — and found them­selves among the league’s best teams.

Van­der­sloot be­came an MVP can­di­date for her con­sis­tent play­mak­ing and un­prece­dented abil­ity to dish out as­sists. She had a record-set­ting 18 in a game last month and fin­ished the sea­son av­er­ag­ing a record-shat­ter­ing 10 per game.

Di­a­mond DeShields wasn’t able to build off her 2019 All-Star sea­son. A knee in­jury kept her out of the start­ing lineup, and she left the team mid­sea­son for “per­sonal rea­sons.”

Nev­er­the­less, other play­ers stepped up in DeShields’ place.

Cop­per made a case for Most Im­proved Player of the Year. Azura Stevens and Cheyenne Parker also had break­out sea­sons. And Gabby Wil­liams was no­tice­ably more con­fi­dent in her game.

The Sky (12-10) crawled into the play­offs, los­ing six of their last eight games and look­ing bone-tired at times.

“It was a dif­fi­cult sea­son,” Van­der­sloot said. “Ev­ery­body kind of would prob­a­bly agree, be­ing in a bub­ble was not easy. All in all, I’m re­ally proud of this team.”

De­spite the dis­ap­point­ing end­ing, the year was al­ways big­ger than bas­ket­ball. Af­ter ded­i­cat­ing their sea­son to so­cial jus­tice in the wake of the po­lice killings of George Floyd and Bre­onna Tay­lor, Sky play­ers launched “Sky Take Ac­tion” and raised more than $100,000 for Chicago or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Coach James Wade is proud of how his team banded to­gether this sea­son. His part­ing mes­sage?

“I told them thank you and how much I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated them com­ing,” he said. “I know be­cause of COVID, be­cause of so­cial­in­jus­tice is­sues, it was just a tough time for ev­ery­body. For them to com­mit to the team . . . I thought it said a lot.”

De­spite the pain­ful loss, the Sky’s fu­ture re­mains bright. They have a young and promis­ing core meshed with es­tab­lished veter­ans.

There are, how­ever, a few ros­ter ques­tions that will have to be an­swered this off­sea­son.

Parker and Syd­ney Col­son will be free agents. Parker made a case for a de­cent pay raise af­ter putting up ca­reer num­bers in points (13.4), re­bounds (6.4) and steals (1.3).

Wade likely will try to re-sign her and find an in­ex­pen­sive backup point guard.

The con­clu­sion of the 2020 sea­son was dis­ap­point­ing af­ter the Sky’s promis­ing start, but Wade’s fo­cus is on next sea­son.

“We weren’t good enough,” he said. “I want them to take the loss with them and just un­der­stand [that] we have to come back bet­ter. My goal is to bring a cham­pi­onship to this fran­chise.” ✶

PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AP

Sky guard Kahleah Cop­per made a case to be the WNBA Most Im­proved Player of the Year.

Court­ney Van­der­sloot

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