Kahleah Copper returned to the Sky with two more MVP honors and a hunger for ‘more’
Copper led Perfumerias Avenida in scoring (21.4 points) and rebounding (6.2), and her three-point percentage rose from 30.6% during the 2021 WNBA season to 36.2% playing overseas.
Dana Evans sank two free throws near the end of the Sky’s practice Friday, and 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper skipped toward center court, assuming practice was over.
Her teammates and the coaching staff started to laugh. They still needed another shooter to sink two more before practice was really over.
‘‘Sorry, I’m new here,’’ Copper said, joining in the laughter.
Copper isn’t actually new, of course. Sky general manager/coach James Wade’s core designated player is entering her sixth season in Chicago after coming to the Sky in the trade for Elena Delle Donne in 2017.
She is new to the 2022 roster, though, arriving almost six weeks after training camp began as she finished up another MVP-caliber season overseas.
During Copper’s exit interviews after a historic championship season in which she led the Sky in scoring at 14.4 points per game (17.7 in the playoffs), she said she wanted to improve on defense and to become a better three-point shooter.
As she returns to the Sky, she does so with a higher three-point shooting percentage and two more MVP awards in hand after winning Spanish league and Euroleague honors. She led Perfumerias Avenida in scoring (21.4 points) and rebounding (6.2), and her three-point percentage rose from 30.6% during the 2021 WNBA season to 36.2% playing overseas.
‘‘[Coming off the WNBA championship season], teams overseas were more physical,’’ Copper said. ‘‘They were definitely trying to make things tougher, but I embraced it.’’
Copper can point to several turning points in her career that led to the multiple MVP awards, a WNBA title and a core designation that came with a supermax qualifying offer.
One of the most significant, however, was her decision to re-sign with the Sky in 2020.
‘‘She’s everybody’s MVP,’’ Wade said. ‘‘This all goes back to her free agency in 2020. We talked about the things she could do and become. You saw it every day how she waited for her turn and took advantage of it.’’
Coming off a 2019 season in which she averaged 6.7 points and 1.9 rebounds, she sat with Wade at a cafe in the city. The two shared honest expectations each had for the Sky and Copper to reach new levels of success. In that moment, Copper said she learned to be a better communicator and to trust Wade.
She doubled her stat line in 2020, averaging 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists during the Sky’s 22-game bubble season.
‘‘Some people you peg at 18, 19 years old,’’ Wade said. ‘‘She’s always been good; she was a McDonald’s All-American. But the thing that stands out is her work ethic and motor. Everybody doesn’t have that.’’
When Wade talks about Copper’s motor, he’s talking about her lack of complacency. She is never content with where she’s at. She’s always fighting for the next step, the next level and the next skill to add to her game.
This year, as teammate Candace Parker put it, every team in the WNBA will have Copper circled on its scouting report. The biggest test for Copper will be how she adjusts to everybody keying in on her.
Her approach to handling that pressure is simple.
‘‘I’ve just gotta come in and not do too much,’’ Copper said. ‘‘I have pieces around me who are going to make it difficult to key on me. As much as they want to key on me, they better key on Allie [Quigley], Candace and Courtney [Vandersloot]. We’ve got too much.’’
Copper said Wade won free agency by signing 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, trading for Julie Allemand and re-signing her, Vandersloot and Quigley.
The Sky’s depth, coupled with every player’s understanding of her role, is their greatest strength. It helps that their team features the top point guard in the WNBA (Vandersloot), arguably the best point forward in league history (Parker) and the WNBA’s best three-point shooter (Quigley).
But the Sky will go as Copper does. That was evident when she returned to practice Friday. Wade said there was a difference on the court because of Copper’s competitive energy and the fun she has while playing.
As the Sky (2-2) head into the weekend, a game against the Mystics (5-1) awaits them at 2 p.m. Sunday. Copper will have about 30 friends and family in the stands.
The Sky are coming off a three-point loss to the Storm that Wade said only will be valuable if they can adjust and correct the errors they made, beginning with their sense of urgency.
Copper’s presence undoubtedly will have an impact. And as she gears up for her 2022 WNBA debut, the goals she has set for herself are all-encompassing.
‘‘I just want so much more,’’ Copper said.