Rebekah Gardner brings vital confidence to Sky’s deep roster

“I’ve played against so many great players over the years,” Gardner said. “All of the experiences leading up to this have helped me prepare for this moment.”

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Rebekah Gardner dribbles the ball upcourt during the third period of the Sky’s game against the Indiana Fever at Wintrust Arena onMay 24, 2022.

Rebekah Gardner dribbles the ball upcourt during the third period of the Sky’s game against the Indiana Fever at Wintrust Arena onMay 24, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Rebekah Gardner might be classified as a rookie in the WNBA, but she’s a long-time professional.

Her 10 years overseas after going undrafted out of UCLA in 2012 gave her experience and a level of confidence that makes her a perfect fit in Sky general manager/coach James Wade’s system.

‘‘[Older rookies] don’t have to prove themselves to people,’’ Wade said when asked about the upside of signing a rookie with experience. ‘‘When you come into this league at a young age, you’re trying to find out who you are. Sometimes that can get in the way of team concepts.’’

It’s no secret that Wade’s system works best with players willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. Candace Parker has said that’s one of the reasons she wanted to play for him.

Given the task of replacing two key contributors — Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields — from the Sky’s 2021 championship run, Wade looked outside the draft. After signing Emma Meesseman early in free agency, Wade needed a wing to back up 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper.

During the offseason, Wade lives in France with his family and spends a significant amount of time scouting overseas players. Gardner played less than two hours from Wade’s home for the Spanish club Spar Girona. After seeing her play against WNBA talent such as DeShields, Copper, Arike Ogunbowale and Gabby Williams in February, Wade signed her.

While Copper was finishing her commitment in Spain and Allie Quigley was on the bench with a knee injury, Gardner got her first WNBA start against the Liberty after arriving to camp only days earlier.

‘‘[Gardner] had no fears,’’ Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said after her team’s 33-point loss to the Sky. ‘‘She only had about two days with the team, and that didn’t hamper her. She’s really going to help them with another scoring punch.’’

Gardner has scored in double figures in three of her first five games, exploiting defenders with her explosive first step and footwork under the basket. Nobody on the Sky is surprised by her contributions. Courtney Vandersloot said she had conversations with Wade about getting Gardner on the roster during the offseason.

The Sky are 4-2 heading into their game Saturday against the Aces, who are obliterating teams with their high-octane offense under new coach Becky Hammon.

In their season-opening loss to the Sparks, the Sky turned the ball over 25 times and the bench scored only 10 points. In their loss to the Storm, with their roster slightly more intact, they had 17 turnovers and 12 bench points. When the Sky are at their best, they commit fewer than 15 turnovers and get about 30 points from their bench.

Just as it was during their championship run, the Sky’s depth will be their strongest attribute. Azura Stevens is their second-leading scorer (13.7 points), and she has come off the bench since Copper returned to the lineup.

Wade’s second unit only has gotten better since last season, and the addition of Gardner is one of the reasons why.

‘‘I’ve played against so many great players over the years,’’ Gardner said. ‘‘All of the experiences leading up to this have helped me prepare for this moment.’’

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