Sky rookies share draft experience with their mothers

With roster in flux, draftees Kseniya Malashka and Kayana Traylor have opportunity to contribute quickly.

SHARE Sky rookies share draft experience with their mothers
Kseniya Malashka averaged 15.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season for Middle Tennessee.

Kseniya Malashka averaged 15.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season for Middle Tennessee.

MTSU Athletics

Kseniya Malashka’s mother, Hanna, stayed up all night in anticipation of the possibility that her daughter would be selected in the 2023 WNBA Draft.

Back home in Belarus, Hanna followed the draft as best she could, closely monitoring draft lists to see if Kseniya’s name would appear. It was Hanna who introduced her to basketball and served as her first coach. Regardless of the miles that separated the two, there was no circumstance that was going to prevent her from sharing this moment with her daughter.

And when Kseniya was picked in the third round (35th overall), it was a realization of Hanna’s own dream coming true.

“Basketball was always around me because of my mom,” Malashka told the Sun-Times. “She was really good. She sacrificed her career to have a family, and that’s been my biggest motivation.”

The first thing Hanna did was wake up her husband to let him know their daughter would be playing in Chicago. His subsequent question brought tears of laughter to his daughter’s eyes.

“So you’re a Bull now?” he asked over the phone.

“He didn’t know it was the Chicago Sky,” Malashka said, laughing.

Malashka hasn’t seen her immediate family in two years, a difficult reality of leaving her home to pursue an education and basketball career in the United States.

Malashka attended high school in Canada before playing her first two collegiate seasons at VCU and finishing at Middle Tennessee. The 6-0 redshirt senior was a two-time Conference USA sixth player of the year and was named to the conference’s preseason All-Conference team in 2022-23.

Her 15.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season helped lead Middle Tennessee to a 28-5 record, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a C-USA regular-season and tournament title.

“For [my mom], it was hard to let me go so far,” Malashka said. “She was crying and so happy that everything was worth it, that everything worked out.”

Like her daughter, Hanna was a versatile player navigating the hybrid guard-forward role seamlessly. That style of play is what gives Malashka the confidence that her game will translate at the next level.

“I will do anything they need me to,” Malashka said. “If they want me to play guard, I will play guard. If they want me at the post, I can do that, too. Whatever it takes to help the team.”

With the departure of Astou Ndour-Fall, who will not play for the Sky in 2023 because of limited time off between the WNBA season and her international schedule, according to her agent, the Sky potentially could field a 12-player roster.

Sky coach/general manager James Wade has options, but Ndour-Fall’s absence can serve as an opportunity for both Malashka and the 23rd overall pick, Virginia Tech guard Kayana Traylor.

While Malshka was watching the draft with friends in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Traylor was six hours away in Blacksburg, Virginia, experiencing her own draft-day moment with a small group.

“My sister goes to Radford so we watched it together,” Traylor said. “My girlfriend was also there, and I was on FaceTime with my mom as well. We kind of all got to watch it together. It was a really cool moment.”

Traylor is from Martinsville, Indiana, and began her collegiate career at Purdue, where she averaged 8.8 points, 3.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 27.6 minutes over three seasons. She played two seasons at Virginia Tech, helping the Hokies make their first Final Four appearance in her final season.

Similar to her new teammate, Traylor’s draft moment was an emotional one between her and her mother.

“It’s hard to put into words without getting emotional,” Traylor said. “She’s been my number-one supporter through everything good, bad, Purdue to here. It didn’t matter. In a lot of ways, a lot of what I want to do is for her.”

Training camp begins April 30 and both of the Sky’s rookies are eager to get to Chicago.

Traylor specifically mentioned Dana Evans as one of the players she’s most looking forward to sharing a court with.

“Her story has been really cool to follow,” Traylor said. “She’s a really good player, point guard and scorer, all of the above.”

The Sky’s backcourt is in a state of flux after the departure of four-time All-Star Courtney Vandersloot in free agency.

It’s unclear who will be Wade’s starting point guard, but he’s not lacking options after acquiring Marina Mabrey in a trade this offseason. Evans also has proven her potential as a leader of the offense in the limited minutes she has had in her first two seasons with the Sky.

Traylor wasn’t drafted to compete for the point-guard position. According to Wade, he sees her as an off-ball option who doesn’t waste possessions with bad shot selection. The 5-9 guard sees herself making an impact by doing whatever is asked.

“I’ve played both [guard roles] on and off the ball,” Traylor said. “[Playing in the WNBA] goes back to being able to do both, do either, whatever they need out of me.”

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