Chicago Sky Focusing on Now
The Sky are expecting great things, but they’re focused on the day-to-day.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
The Chicago Sky have a lot of new faces this season. Adding players of the caliber of Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, Ticha Penicheiro and Le’Coe Willingham has also brought higher expectations for the team’s success in the summer of 2012. Of course, there is a lot to be done before they can achieve those goals.
“We’re still trying to learn each other, still trying to build that trust on the defensive end and, offensively, figure out our strengths and where we need to go,” Cash says. “It’s been a great preseason for us and it’s helped us out a lot, but we still have a ways to go.”
As they get ready for the regular season to tip off, they know they still have many areas where they need to improve. This now-veteran team is focused on those areas because, while individual players may know what it takes to win games in the WNBA, the team must improve in those ever-important areas as a unit.
“Defensively and I think that’s pretty obvious… we just show we’re not clicking on all cylinders yet, which is to be expected with so many new players,” Riley says.
They are well aware of the fact they have made great strides, but know they must find consistency. After a pre-season game against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx Tuesday, those areas of improvement were brought to light even more. If Chicago wants to achieve the goals they have set for themselves, this is priority number one.
“I still think we have to be more consistent with what we do,” Sylvia Fowles says. “We do things good in spurts—that’s playing defense, getting good offense, getting good looks, taking good shots—we do it in spurts. Everything has not come together just yet, but this is preseason. We’ll get back together on Thursday, look at some film to see things we did OK and things we did terrible at and just go from there.”
It is always a good problem to have when a team adds significantly more talent to their roster and then tries to find ways for that talent to mesh together to make a team, especially when the additions are veteran talents. They have been there before in other stops around the league and know how to bend their individual goals and wants in order for their team to succeed. That is why the Chicago roster is confident they will be able to find a consistent attack, both offensively and defensively.
“We bring some leadership and our experience to the team, but we have some really great young players,” Cash says. “It’s really just meshing that together and it starts with us on the defensive end. That’s going to be our identity, what we hang our hat on, so we have to figure out where our strengths are, where are weaknesses are and cover those up for a while until we get better.”
Finding ways to win games in the early season, while working to improve their consistency, is where a great coach comes into play. Pokey Chatman has the respect of her team because they believe in her coaching style and ability to lead them to victories, including the new veteran additions.
“Pokey’s been great,” Riley says. “I mean, she devotes an unbelievable amount of time to breaking down film from practice to game, getting us prepared the best that we possibly can. Just herself, her coaching is, obviously a little different and she has a player’s mentality in some sort and so, I think, it’s good. I’ve really enjoyed being here so far.”
Now it’s about continuing to build the team chemistry. It is clear in the locker room that this is a team that enjoys being around each other and plays for each other’s success, but there is always room for growth.
“I think our chemistry is fine,” Fowles explains. “Everybody came in with the right mindset, everybody went to work, everybody wanted to get to know each other and click, but it’s not where it needs to be. It’s just there because everybody is friendly and open and willing to learn, but once we actually get that chemistry, I think we’ll be really decent.”
Having a few more days of practice before the regular season tips off is going to be key for the Chicago Sky. This smart team has completed its preseason and now can fine-tune to its liking before the games count.
“It’s been a good adjustment,” Cash says. “I think the one thing that we continue to struggle with is really getting everyone on the same page and figuring out an identity for our team. We had a few bruises and a couple players missed practices, so we’re looking forward to having the next couple of days of practice time to really prepare for the regular season.”
Many expect great things from the Chicago Sky this season because of the additions, but they are taking the right approach. They are focusing on the now, focusing on the day-to-day and not looking into the future.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Fowles says. “Granted, we added some new additions to the team, but we still have to work those kinks. I’m looking forward to it because it’s new faces, but at the same time, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves and we know what we have to do. It’s step-by-step and it’s not going to be easy.”
Outside forces may see a Finals appearance when looking at the roster, but with the day-to-day approach they are taking, the Sky veterans are helping to lead the younger players into remembering it is a long road ahead. They may have confidence, but they can and should continue to improve and the playoffs are still a long ways away. That is the only place where Chicago can achieve what is expected.
“For us, right now it’s about building,” Cash says. “It’s going to be a long season. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. We’re just going to continue to get better. The thing I like about this team is that we understand we’re not where we need to be right now and that’s a great place to be because you have a lot of room for growth. If we were sitting here, everything was lovely, having a great preseason and everything like that, you guys would be saying one thing. Getting a good smacking like this (in their pre-season game against Minnesota Tuesday), this sometimes wakes you up, brings you back to reality and lets you know we have a lot more to work on.”
With the work still to be done, don’t for one second believe the Sky aren’t confident heading into the season. They are doing exactly as they should be by identifying where they need to improve to compete with the WNBA’s best and working to transform into the team they want to become.
“I think we’re excited to just start the season and see what we can do,” said Riley.
The Chicago Sky’s regular season tips off Saturday against the Washington Mystics.
Photos by Matthew Fleegel.