When Alaina Coates needed a little something extra during her college career, she could look into the stands and see her father.
‘‘I have my moments when I think of him,’’ Coates said. ‘‘Whenever I was on the court [at South Carolina], we would always have these little hand signs that he would have for me. If I needed to up my intensity, he would look like he would crank something up.’’
But as she begins her WNBA career, Coates isn’t able to see her dad in the crowd. On March 13, her father died after going into cardiac arrest behind the wheel of a car in Blythewood, South Carolina. According to local reports, the car driven by Gary Coates, 55, went off a road and hit a tree, though cardiac arrest is what caused his death.
Not even three months later, Coates is adjusting to playing without her father while familiarizing herself with the Sky and the WNBA.
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‘‘Sometimes I’ll look over there in the seats I probably would have picked out for him to sit in,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s kind of weird because he’s not there. I don’t have my guy there giving me signals if I need to do something. It’s just really weird not having him around. He was, like, a big part in all of it.’’
Coates was the second overall pick in the WNBA Draft in 2017 but missed last season because of an injury to her right ankle suffered during her senior season at South Carolina. Now fully recovered and competing for minutes, Coates is part of a young Sky team that added No. 3 pick Diamond DeShields and No. 4 pick Gabby Williams this spring.
And her father was one of the people most excited to see Coates play in the league after sitting out.
‘‘I think about it every day,’’ she said. ‘‘Aside from my mom and brother, he was my main support system. He was my twin. He was a big part of me. He was one of the main reasons why I got into basketball. He just played a big role in that. His presence is definitely missed. It’s just kind of a weird spot to be in. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get through it. I think it about it every day.
‘‘He was so excited about me starting in the WNBA and getting to play and everything. It just sucks that he’s not here to see any of it.’’