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Donne of a new era: How coach James Wade changed trajectory of Sky after 2 down seasons

One day after the Sky clinched their first playoff berth since 2016, they beat the Mystics 85-78.

Wade took the Sky — a team who underachieved the last two seasons — and changed the team’s entire trajectory. Since his hiring in November, nothing has been the same.
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The “MVP” chants started with six seconds left in the game Friday night as Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot walked to the free-throw line. Forwards Astou Ndour and Diamond DeShields bumped chests before taking their spots on the court.

Vandersloot split the pair of free throws, but it didn’t matter.

One day after the Sky clinched their first playoff berth since 2016, they beat the Mystics 85-78 — their first win over the Mystics since Elena Delle Donne was traded to Washington before the 2017 season.

“It’s a big deal,” coach James Wade said after the victory. “I want us to be better. I’m appreciative of clinching, but we have our eyes on bigger things.”

Wade has taken the Sky, a team that had underachieved the previous two seasons, and changed their trajectory. Since his hiring in November, nothing has been the same.

Center Stefanie Dolson described the 2017 and 2018 atmosphere as “lackadaisical.”

“It was a bit more lenient — people got away with things and did what they wanted,” she said. “That isn’t a winning culture.”

Wade wouldn’t tolerate it and was clear what his expectations were as he made the Sky’s culture problem his first priority. Before the season, he traded for forward Jantel Lavender, who had won a WNBA title with the Sparks. Her impact was far greater than what anyone anticipated. In addition to her production on the court, Lavender — who was putting up her best numbers in four seasons before she was sidelined with a foot injury earlier this month — quickly gained the respect of her teammates and taught them how winning teams act.

While Wade harped on the Sky for errors, he also amped them up for their successes.

“He’s a player’s coach, but at the same time, he knows there’s a line that needs to be drawn,” Dolson said. “And he does it in a way that we respect him because he respects us and our opinion. . . . By doing that, we listen to him. When there’s a rule, we listen to it, because we know it all matters in the end.”

Said guard Allie Quigley: “He tells us how good we are and what we can achieve, and eventually we started seeing success on the court — we started believing it.”

Wade also has owned up to mistakes. After Ndour put up season-high numbers in place of Lavender, he admitted he should’ve played her more sooner. When he got a technical foul earlier this season for arguing with an official, he apologized to his players. That accountability has motivated them.

“We just trust where he’s been, and what he’s done,” Quigley said.

After he was hired, Wade made his goal clear: “They brought me here to get to the playoffs, and that’s what I plan on doing.”

Now, the question is, how far will they go?

“Moving forward, this gives us a lot of confidence,” Vandersloot said. “We have a tough schedule going forward. It’s going to prepare us well for the playoffs.”