USA Basketball camp provides outlet for Sky star Kahleah Copper after time of ‘emotional’ free-agency news

This camp is Copper’s fourth in the last two years.

SHARE USA Basketball camp provides outlet for Sky star Kahleah Copper after time of ‘emotional’ free-agency news
Kahleah Copper is the only member of the Sky’s starting five under contract for the 2023 season.

Kahleah Copper is the last remaining starter from the Sky’s championship run on coach/GM James Wade’s roster.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

MINNEAPOLIS — Kahleah Copper made an impression on Cheryl Reeve during the FIBA World Cup last fall.

It’s easy to understand why. As one of the WNBA’s best two-way players and coming off an emotional playoff loss, Copper entered her first USA Basketball competition with something to prove and looking for an escape.

“I think about Kah four years ago, five years ago, and where she is today, and it’s really a testament to her work ethic and passion,” Reeve said. “She loves the game. She’s great to be around.”

After averaging 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 55.5% from the field and 41.7% from three-point range, Copper has solidified herself as a mainstay in the national team’s player pool. This camp is her fourth in the last two years.

The timing of this one, similar to the World Cup, couldn’t be better for Copper. By her own admission, it has been an emotional time with the departures of Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Azurá Stevens in free agency. The three-day camp was a welcome opportunity to shift her focus from disappointment to competition.

“[USA camp] has been an outlet, from working out to being able to compete against bodies and other great players,’’ Copper said. ‘‘I’ve seen my friends that I have around the league and compete with the best.”

Joining Copper at Reeve’s camp was Sky coach/general manager James Wade.

Reeve and Wade have a lengthy coaching history that includes winning a WNBA championship together in 2017. Wade was part of Reeve’s Lynx coaching staff for two years (2017-18) and worked closely with Sylvia Fowles during her MVP season.

This camp was Wade’s second invitation to join Reeve’s USA Basketball coaching staff. Last year, Reeve tapped him to serve as an assistant on her staff for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament.

“James has been a real asset in terms of his contributions when he comes to these camps,” Reeve said.

Consistency has been a point of emphasis for Copper throughout camp. She is taking notes about the consistency she has seen her decorated teammates bring to their leadership roles.

With Reeve, Copper has found strong common ground on and off the court.

“She’s a big competitor,” Copper said. “I love that because that’s also me. She expects the best all of the time but throws in a few jokes there and has a great sense of humor.”

Reeve’s coaching career started in Philadelphia as an assistant at La Salle University, her alma mater. Their mutual tie to the city, Copper’s hometown, has proved to be of value in the development of their relationship.

“[That connection] is special,” Copper said. “You always have something to talk about. That little bond and connection is important.”

Copper’s growth during her seven-year career, six of which she has played for the Sky, has been substantial.

Her scoring average more than doubled from 2019 to 2022. In the last three seasons, she has started in all 85 of her appearances for the Sky. She earned back-to-back All-Star nods in 2021-22, was named Finals MVP in 2021 and followed it up with her first World Cup gold medal in 2022.

The Summer Olympics are coming up in 2024 in Paris, and the camp this week is being used to evaluate the player pool.

Copper already has made a clear impression on Reeve and the national team’s committee. If the upward trajectory of her career continues, she’ll have an opportunity to compete for her first Olympic gold medal with Team USA next summer.

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