Boyette learns from experience, ready for enhanced role with Sky

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Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream shoots the ball against Imani Boyette of the Chicago Sky during Round Two of the 2016 WNBA Playoffs last season at Allstate Arena. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sky center Imani Boyette describes herself as a nervous wreck. So when it comes to evaluating her first WNBA season, Boyette points to anxiousness and a seasonlong learning curve that caused her to hit a rookie wall.

But despite getting limited playing time, especially early, the 6-7 Boyette managed to finish last season third in the league in blocked shots (1.4 per game) and among the top 10 in field-goal percentage (.544), offensive rebounds (1.7) and defensive rebounds (3.9).

As the Sky prepares for a new season, which begins Sunday against the Minnesota Lynx, Boyette has a different mindset and role, thanks to the offseason trade of former WNBA most valuable player Elena Delle Donne. Boyette will have more around her in the post after the Sky acquired center Stefanie Dolson from the Washington Mystics in the deal for Delle Donne and selected center Alaina Coates out of South Carolina with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

While Boyette has a reputation as a tenacious post defender, an offense installed by first-year Sky coach and general manager Amber Stocks will push her and broaden her horizons.

‘‘I’m being challenged to do things every day that I’m not necessarily comfortable with,’’ Boyette said. ‘‘It’s a learning curve for a lot of us.

‘‘The thing with me is that I’ve always kind of been very happy with my role. It’s frustrating in [that] every day it’s something hard. You want to try to revert back to what you know you excel at.’’

As difficult as it has been for Boyette to change her approach, Stocks has seen steady progress.

‘‘She is developing an increased attack off the dribble and adding more physicality to her game,’’ Stocks said. ‘‘Imani has improved her ability to hit the outside shot, thus opening up the lane for her to continue to score at the rim.’’

Boyette credits Stocks for taking her out of her comfort zone and expanding her offensive skills to make her more of an all-around player. She also understands her second season will bring as many learning opportunities as her first.

That’s when she turns to her half-brother, Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee, with whom she regularly exchanges text messages. She is open to the advice she receives from him.

‘‘Last year, he told me just to enjoy the ride because it was [a season with] a lot of firsts,’’ Boyette said. ‘‘But this year, he told me, ‘It’s time to go to work.’ This is the year I solidify myself as a center in the league and hopefully be one of the best in the years to come.’’

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.


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