by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel

As a rookie last year, Courtney Vandersloot set the Chicago Sky franchise record for assists in a season, finishing with 127 and an average of 3.7 per game. To rank as the 11th best in the WNBA in that ever-important category for a point guard is impressive, yet Vandersloot isn’t so quick to say the transition was an easy one.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Vandersloot. “I think I had a lot of ups and downs, but yeah, there were parts were I felt the transition wasn’t unbearable. I hit a wall and struggled throughout the year. There were things that I needed to learn and I wasn’t learning fast enough. I think with a year of experience now that will help with the transition now.”

Having a very successful rookie season under her belt will help her development as a point guard, Vandersloot looks back to the rough times during her rookie season, never forgetting them as motivation to improve. While there were many positives, Vandersloot also was #12 in the WNBA in turnovers per game and, obviously, that is never a list one wants to be on. Being mature enough to acknowledge one’s own weaknesses is an important aspect in improving, developing and becoming a leader and Vandersloot did exactly that.

“It was the all-around competition,” said Vandersloot. “You know, it’s the best players in the world and I did come from a small school, a smaller conference, so I wasn’t used to the type of play the WNBA has. It was an adjustment. I think all those things come into it.”

While every player has to have a relatively high confidence level to succeed, Vandersloot was rather surprised in the individual accolade of being named a WNBA All-Star. She was focused on her team and her individual game, never expecting something like that to happen so quickly in her career.

“You know, I didn’t to be honest,” said Vandersloot. “I really didn’t. I wasn’t expecting that and it was an honor. Not a lot of people get to do that and while I was there, a lot of the players were mentioning that. It definitely was an honor.”

As she has already experienced some personal success in the league, Vandersloot knows she must continue to develop her game to help her team reach their goals. One of the main areas identified for her to work after her rookie season was to become a more vocal leader, something that doesn’t come naturally to the point guard.

“It’s sometimes difficult to progress on weaknesses,” said Vandersloot. “It comes with confidence, you know? That’s one of the biggest things that I didn’t have the confidence to be the vocal leader that our team needed. In the off-season, I was playing and, as a point guard, you’re always going to be needed to be a vocal leader. I needed to be that for my European team, so I continued to work on that and tried to better my understanding of the game as much as possible. Out of that, I became a little bit more vocal.”

The Chicago Sky added a lot of veterans in the off-season, such as Swin Cash, Le’Coe Willingham, Ruth Riley and Ticha Penicheiro. Now about to tip off her second season in the WNBA, Vandersloot doesn’t see a problem in continuing her growth as a vocal leader despite the presence of the veterans with winning pedigrees. In fact, it may help her to develop at an even faster rate.

“It’s an adjustment year-by-year and I think it almost makes it easier,” said Vandersloot. “When you’re playing with a team with a lot of veterans, they kind of know the deal and it’s pretty easy to be a leader on the court because you can follow their lead off the court. No matter what year you are or how old you are, the players look to the point guard. That’s something I need to realize because I can’t just step back because I’m playing with four veterans. I’m the point guard and they’re looking for me to be the leader.”

The veteran additions will help the team on the court and Vandersloot is ready to learn all she can. While the Sky may have been happy with many of the areas where they progressed as a team last summer, they know the veterans were brought to town to be more than role models. Each of the additions can play the game at a high level and Vandersloot is excited to see how it all comes together.

“I really love the additions we made in the off-season,” said Vandersloot. “We really did lack that veteran leadership and just the experience these players are bringing to us, the desire to win is great. They all have one thing in common and that is they know how to win. They’re going to help us get wins.”

Being a point guard, one of the off-season additions sticks out to Vandersloot. That is, of course, one of the all-time great point guards Ticha Penicheiro joining the Sky. This is an opportunity for the second-year point guard to learn a great amount and something Vandersloot has dreamt of for years.

“I was very excited when I learned that she was going to be a part of the team because she’s a player that even when I was in high school and college I looked up to her,” said Vandersloot. “It’s a good thing and we play similar styles of games. She’s the best of the best and she really knows the game better than most of the players, so it’s going to be a great thing for me, especially being so young to learn from a veteran like her.”

WNBA training camps are short, so the time to get all the new faces on the same page will go by quickly for the Chicago Sky. There is a lot of work to do in that short amount of time, but Vandersloot is confident they will be able to start the season off on the right foot.

“I think it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us,” said Vandersloot. “We all have to learn how to play with one another and it’s a challenge when you add a lot of new faces to the team, but it also can result in a lot of wins as well if you put it all together if you learn from one another and make adjustments. I think that will be the biggest challenge for us, but it’s definitely doable.”

The Chicago Sky made improvements as a team last summer and now have added a lot of quality veteran help over the off-season. Factoring in both of those areas, the expectations for the summer of 2012 have also grown from the fans and the team themselves.

“Last year was kind of disappointing for us,” said Vandersloot. “We progressed, but we’re going to expect even more from the Chicago Sky this year. I think everybody involved with the franchise would truly be disappointed if there wasn’t a playoff run from us this year.”

Things are looking up in Chicago this summer.