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Year-round commitment helped Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot reach career milestone

Vandersloot became the fourth player in WNBA history to record 2,000 career assists following Sue Bird (2,961), Ticha Penicheiro (2,599) and Lindsey Whalen (2,348).

“I know I’m playing 365 days, and it’s a lot at times,” the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot said. “At the same time, that’s what’s growing my career. You don’t get to play basketball your whole life.”
“I know I’m playing 365 days, and it’s a lot at times,” the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot said. “At the same time, that’s what’s growing my career. You don’t get to play basketball your whole life.”
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The top three picks in the 2011 WNBA draft are league changers.

No. 1 overall was Maya Moore, Liz Cambage went No. 2 and Courtney Vandersloot, as we all know, went to the Sky with the third overall pick.

Since being drafted 10 years ago, Vandersloot estimates she’s taken about a month off from basketball each year.

Not a consecutive month off, but one month each year total. That’s 10 months off in 10 years that she’s given her body, and she’s not complaining.

“I know I'm playing 365 days, and it’s a lot at times,” Vandersloot said. “At the same time, that’s what’s growing my career. You don’t get to play basketball your whole life.”

Vandersloot became the fourth player in WNBA history to record 2,000 career assists, following Sue Bird (2,961), Ticha Penicheiro (2,599) and Lindsey Whalen (2,348). All of whom she said inspired her career in different ways.

Her double-double with 10 points and 13 assists against the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday night put her at 2,003. She passed Diana Taurasi in career assists against the Mercury on June 3, finishing with nine that night and 1,971 total. Taurasi is fifth on the leaderboard with 1,968.

Lucky number 2,000 came on a pick and roll pass to Candace Parker for an easy layup. Vandersloot is used to playing with “bucket getters” in her career but none like Parker.

The pair have only played in four games together this season, but the pressure release Parker provides Vandersloot has been unmatched compared to previous seasons. Opponents have always keyed in on Vandersloot, and if they were able to disrupt her, they disrupted the Sky.

With Parker on the court, another passing threat, teams have struggled to lock them both up defensively. The Sky are 4-0 with Parker on the floor. Against the Lynx, the Sky finished with 32 assists on 40 made field goals for 105 points. Parker was the second in assists with seven.

Vandersloot’s commitment to the game of basketball is hard to compare to other WNBA players because fewer are playing all year. It’s not comparable to any in the NBA. The NBA’s shortest offseason of 72 days ahead of the 2020-21 season is still double what Vandersloot takes off a year.

That brings up a critical point because while Vandersloot strongly expressed the joy she gets playing basketball almost 365 days a year, women in the WNBA haven’t had a choice for a long time. The supplemental income from playing overseas was necessary to make a sustainable living.

The new eight-year collective bargaining agreement, which commenced with the 2020 season and goes through the 2027 season, provided a 53% increase in total cash compensation. The minimum player salary in 2021 is $57,000 for a player with two years or less of experience. The league maximum in 2021 is $221,450.

The addition of performance bonuses, prize pools for newly created in-season competitions like the Commissioner's Cup, and league and team marketing deals means players could earn upwards of $500,000.

The previous CBA, which players opted out of, had a league minimum of $41,965 in 2019 and a maximum salary of $117,500.

“Playing all year was just how it was when I first got in the league,” Vandersloot said.

Her passing efficiency continues to improve. Vandersloot’s first 500 assists in the WNBA took her 106 games. The next 500 came in 90 games and the following in 57. The most recent 500 took her just 53 games.

Vandersloot credits her experience overseas with teaching her a team style of basketball versus the fast-paced one on one game we see in the WNBA. Her early years overseas playing for different coaches and teams allowed her to pick up different tidbits from everyone, which advanced her basketball IQ and ability to read the game.

The Sky are currently second in the league behind the Storm in the percentage of field goals made assisted with 70.2% and 11th in field goals made unassisted with 29.8%. This unselfish offense is what coach and general manager James Wade has established as the team’s identity.

In his first two seasons with the Sky, the team was second and fourth in the league in offensive rating. After 12 games this season, they are 10th in the league. The team has acknowledged that injury and inability to establish cohesion without their full roster has presented challenges offensively.

Against the Lynx, the Sky looked like the team Wade had envisioned when he went after Parker in the offseason.

Vandersloot is confident in the progression of this team and their ability to move the ball and exploit teams with their offensive weapons. As far as her personal accomplishments go, she acknowledges them but hasn’t celebrated anything yet.

“The celebration will happen post-career,” Vandersloot said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”