It’s Only One Game
Kristi Toliver and the Chicago Sky look to rebound after shaky debut.
by Stephen Litel
In an odd scheduling situation to start the season, the Chicago Sky opened the 2009 WNBA season on the road in Minnesota with their second game–their home opener–six days later. That can certainly make the already difficult adjustment to the WNBA game even more challenging for a rookie, such as Chicago’s Kristi Toliver.
“It was nice to have those preseason games to be able to get on the floor and get a feel for what the WNBA play is like,” said Toliver prior to her debut. “Once the season starts, the intensity level skyrockets or that’s what I’ve heard, so I know I can expect that. I played in the best conference in the country for four years in college, so that’s prepared me for this level. I’m just excited and ready to play.”
After a fine college career at the University of Maryland, Toliver is used to being one of the most talented players on the court at all times. Yet, in her first regular season game, she only saw the floor for four minutes, scoring two points and turning the ball over three times. As the Lynx took over, running away from the Sky, Toliver could only watch from the sidelines, but the rookie is unfazed by her initial experience.
“It was a pleasant surprise in the preseason because I was able to adjust pretty quickly, but the athleticism that this league has is unbelievable and the talent is unbelievable,” said Toliver. “With rosters cut down to an 11-man roster, it’s the best of the best playing right now, so that’s fun, it’s encouraging, it’s a challenge and I’m always up for one.”
Through all the confidence, both Toliver and her team debuted unpleasantly for 2009 and with some Chicago fan’s preexisting concerns, the time off between their first two games allows the recurring themes to reemerge. As of late, the person taking the brunt of scorn is the headman, Coach Steven Key. The man running the franchise as both GM and Head Coach should be ready to handle the criticism and, although fans may continue to voice their displeasure, his talented rookie believes in him.
“He’s a really nice guy, first and foremost, and he’s really fun to be around,” said Toliver. “He lets players play and that’s one of the things I like a lot. He’s not going to do a lot of X and O type of stuff because he wants to get up and down the floor and let you use your strengths. He knows that this team is balanced inside and out and he knows where to get people into the right spots to be successful. He knows how to get the best out of his players.”
Certainly, it isn’t as if Chicago doesn’t have talent to build around and compete. Their nucleus now includes Sylvia Fowles, Candice Dupree, Armintie Price and Toliver. Of those four, Dupree has the most WNBA experience in her fourth WNBA season. Therefore, this squad has an opportunity to keep a solid core of young players together for an extended period of time, all while continuing to add the additional pieces around them to compete up to the expectations of the fans.
“This team is extremely versatile, extremely balanced and we have both inside and outside threats that can get the job done,” said Toliver. “As long as our chemistry is right and we’re clicking on all cylinders, we should do extremely well this season. Obviously, a goal of ours is to make the playoffs. They didn’t make it last year and now we definitely have the components to get there.”
With a rough start to the year, as well as the additional drama coming from displeasure of those who follow the team on the regular, the rookie knows you can only take the first step before arriving at your destination. That first step is to take care of what you alone can control and that would be your individual game.
“If you want to continue to get better, you have to set goals for yourself and I definitely have some of my own. As long as I take care of business in practice, get better every day at taking care of the basketball, distributing the basketball and taking what the defense gives me, then I’ll be able to reach those goals that I have for myself.”
It is, after all, only one game. Although it may be difficult to imagine Chicago in the playoffs this season, it is not outside of possibility. Hopefully, during the time off between their first two games, Coach Key, Toliver and the rest of the Chicago Sky must begin to fix the already present issues.
So, fans, as the season gets going, what teams, players or stories are catching your eye? For those who follow the Sky, can you give us more detail on the concerns regarding Coach Key?
Oh, and how about my 2-0 Lynx? Let’s see how they play against L.A. on Wednesday.