The Sky are bound to suffer growing pains in their first season under coach James Wade. That was evident in their 69-58 loss to the Indiana Fever in their preseason opener Tuesday at Wintrust Arena.
Though the Sky were without Diamond DeShields (hamstring), Kahleah Copper (hand), Jamierra Faulkner (knee), Astou Ndour (overseas commitment) and Allie Quigley (overseas commitment), they showed flashes, especially during an explosive first quarter. At one point, the Sky led 19-5.
But, overall, the Sky’s uptempo offense sagged after that first quarter, and they reverted to their old ways.
“I figured it would be tough for us,” Wade said. “Getting a new offense and new style of play, you could tell we weren’t in a rhythm offensively.”
The Sky, who averaged a league-high 15.1 turnovers last season, were sloppy with the ball (23 turnovers).
But several of the Sky’s younger players sparkled, including fourth overall pick Katie Lou Samuelson, who played nearly 31 minutes — the most on the team — and second-year forward Gabby Williams, who had 10 points and six rebounds.
Samuelson was content with her performance (eight points, seven rebounds), but she sees room for improvement.
“I could’ve shot better,” said Samuelson, who went 2-for-4 from three-point range. “But I know I can knock those shots in, so I’ll continue to take them.”
Samuelson, who averaged 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 34 games with UConn last season, could be the difference-maker to catapult the Sky to the next level. The 6-3 guard/forward can play multiple positions.
“Whatever I have to do, I’ll do,” Samuelson said.
Even if it means playing 30 minutes on a regular basis, she said.
Wade likes Samuelson’s versatility and toughness.
“We’re going to use her a lot and in different situations, challenge her,” Wade said. “She responded well.”
Samuelson wasn’t the Sky’s only draft pick who impressed.
Guard Chloe Jackson, whom the Sky picked 15th overall in April, was nervous for her preseason debut, but it didn’t show on the court.
The former Baylor star had a strong second half. In the third quarter, Jackson passed the ball up the court for a nice assist to Courtney Vandersloot. Later, she had back-to-back buckets.
Jackson finished with nine points (3-for-4 from the field). Her performance didn’t surprise power forward Cheyenne Parker.
“From training camp, I already see the spark she can bring,” Parker said. “I hope to continue to see her blossom.”
Jackson has the quickness to excel in the WNBA. She could play a key role off the bench.
Wade said his staff has been impressed by Jackson at camp.
“She put pressure on the other guards that are in training camp to respond,” Wade said. “The part she has to grow into is the intensity of how to get her teammates going.”
The biggest takeaway from the Sky’s first of two preseason games is how far they still have to go.
Parker thinks the Sky have a solid foundation to build on.
“Overall, we played hard,” said Parker, who led the team with 11 points and added five rebounds. “We showed effort, and we didn’t give up. We definitely have a lot to work on.”