DEERFIELD, Ill. – “It’s darkest just before the dawn.”
That’s the new slogan for the Chicago Sky.
They also have a new logo, a new court design, and a new head coach and general manager.
After back-to-back losing seasons, Amber Stocks was let go and replaced by James Wade – a coach with a championship pedigree in both the WNBA and Euroleague.
“He has a lot of passion and I think that translates to us on the court,” noted All-Star center Stefanie Dolson. “We’re energized by it. Our defense has picked up. Our offense has been quicker. We’re progressing.”
“Everything feels different. Leadership top to bottom,” explained All-Rookie guard Diamond DeShields. “We feel like we have a good head on our snake right now. We go as he goes. Whatever he wants, we trust him.”
Wade’s first pick as GM should add some firepower to his offensive arsenal. Katie Lou Samuelson ranks amongst the all-time best at UConn from three-point range. She set an NCAA record as a sophomore, draining ten in a row.
“I’ve been watching Lou since she was a senior in high school. She’s someone who has always been on my radar, personally, and the coaches felt the same way,” said Wade. “We think it’s a winner. A person who spaces the floor. She makes winning plays. It’s someone who adds to the culture and everything we want to bring here.”
It didn’t take long for the fourth overall pick to get her first taste of how physical life in the WNBA will be.
“Already got a nice little black eye,” Samuelson laughed. “You’ve got to be willing to bang with people even if it’s guards or posts. I’m playing both the perimeter and the inside which I didn’t necessarily do at UConn.”
“Even if you play at a high level in college, this is something that’s going to always hit you in the face. You have to be ready for it. You have to attack it head on. It literally hit her in the face and she’s still going,” smiled Wade.
“It’s just a rookie welcome. That’s all.”
The former Huskie might have some growing pains inside the paint, but her outside game is something she can always fall back on.
“I know that’s one thing, no matter what else happens, I’m not going to forget how to do that. Even if I miss a couple shots, I know how to shoot. I know that’s going to come back. Knowing that and having people know that opens up other aspects of the game because I do demand attention on the sides. Either that’s going to open my teammates up or I’m going to be able to do other things.”
“The first day we had practice just seeing her shoot, I’m like ‘man, this is getting me excited for the season,'” gushed second-year Sky guard Linnae Harper.
Harper didn’t hear her name called on draft day last year. But she made the most of her training camp invite, making the team she grew up watching.
“It’s a dream come true. Growing up on the South Side, going to Whitney Young and actually going to Sky games as a kid.
“To be able to play at the professional level and for my hometown, it’s surreal.”
Harper’s first season with the Sky happened to coincide with the team’s second straight no show in the playoffs.
That streak is going to end if DeShields has anything to say about it.
“It’s an expectation this year. It’s definitely an expectation. We expect nothing less. We’re fully capable. We have no choice but to get it done.”
“I mean, we’re coming from a team that won 13 games last year,” remarked Wade. “We’re just trying to build something so we can have expectations. We want to build a winner. This is a winning city. We want this to be a winning franchise. But after that, I just think of the next practice the next day. I can’t think of anything long term. I have to put these things in place.”
Wade may have to stay measured for the good of the group, but DeShields has no problem being bold.
“I’m saying it. We’re getting in the playoffs this year.”