by Sherron Shabazz / @SherronShabazz
Eight years after the team’s inception, the Chicago Sky are one win from clinching their first playoff berth in franchise history. The 18-8 Sky sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 2.5-game lead over the Atlanta Dream and are a half of a game behind the Minnesota Lynx for the best record in the WNBA.
The franchise, which had previously never won more than 16 games, is on the brink of something special. To start the season, the Sky hoped to make the 2013 playoffs—now their goal is to compete for a championship.
On the surface, it appears that rookie sensation Elena Delle Donne is the reason for Chicago’s success, but that’s not entirely the case. While Delle Donne is Chicago’s leading scorer and beyond spectacular for a rookie, she’ll be the first to tell you that her teammates have made her transition to the pros a smooth one.
Chicago’s core of Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince, Courtney Vandersloot and Delle Donne were all top-four selections. The Sky traded their second overall pick in 2012 for three-time champion Swin Cash.
It should come as no surprise that Chicago is competing for the top record in the WNBA—the team is stacked.
Prince provides instant offense in the backcourt. Cash brings leadership and toughness. Fowles anchors the paint—cleaning up the glass and getting points in the paint. Vandersloot has quietly become Chicago’s unsung hero, expertly quarterbacking a team loaded with plenty of scoring options.
“Slooty is tough,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman told SLAM. “She’s getting screened probably 30-plus times a game. Maybe 12 of them are illegal in the hip, head and the neck, and she bounces back up. I’m proud of her because a lot of times her stuff doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Chicago has continued its winning ways despite losing Fowles and Delle Donne for a handful of games to injury and Prince for a stint with the Russian national team. Major injuries to key reserves Carolyn Swords and Sharnee Zoll-Norman would negatively impact a team’s record, but Chicago just keeps plugging along.
Chicago sits alone in first place in the east, but the team plays hungry every time they take the court, exemplified recently during two come-from-behind wins against Seattle and Connecticut.
The Sky overcame a 16-point deficit in Seattle to defeat the Storm, 79-66, and three days later climbed out of a 25-point hole at home against the Sun for a 89-78 victory. Both wins were without Delle Donne, who was nursing a foot injury. Chicago’s win against Connecticut was the biggest comeback win in Sky history and tied for the largest come-from-behind win in WNBA history.
Despite her team’s success, Chatman keeps her team focused on the task at hand. The team avoids watching the standings and takes each game as they come.
“It’s so much basketball left and teams are so good you can get caught up in that,” Chatman said. “The fact that we’re in first, I make sure that I remind them that it could be gone tomorrow if you don’t take care of your business. That’s how good everyone is and a lot of teams are making a push and getting people back healthy so you have to determine how long you want to be there because you’re the hunted.
“We all know what we have in this room. We have to go up against it every day. It’s all about having a lot of confidence and going out there and get it done.”
The Sky welcomes the New York Liberty to the Windy City for a Friday night battle. A win by Chicago would punch their first ticket to the playoffs in eight years of existence. Chicago is 4-0 against New York this season.