Injured Sky forward Jantel Lavender finds opportunity in misfortune this offseason

Jantel Lavender has played in 17 consecutive professional seasons, and she was planning to make it 18 this winter before she had foot surgery in August.

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Jantel Lavender will be a college women’s basketball analyst for the Big Ten Network this offseason.

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Last December was the first time Sky forward Jantel Lavender spent Christmas with her family in three years. As she looked around the table, she couldn’t help but realize how much she had missed.

Her young cousins were 18 and grown, and her mother and sister had everything down to a tee.

“People start doing things a certain way and it’s just like you’re not really tied into that,” Lavender told the Sun-Times in a phone interview. “So that was kind of hard seeing everybody in their routines or how things were kind of going for Christmas and stuff, and I was just kind of there smiling.”

Like most WNBA players, Lavender has missed holidays and other life events to pursue her career, which consists of playing year-round. But in her eyes, it was worth it.

However, for the first time in nine years, Lavender will be only Sky player who will have the luxury of an offseason (though it didn’t come by choice).

Lavender has played in 17 consecutive professional seasons, and she was planning to make it 18 this winter before she had foot surgery in August.

Sidelined for the final stretch of the WNBA season, Lavender had ample time to reflect on her career and what the future held.

Lavender always wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting but she never had the time. Unable to play, she turned to the Sky for a potential broadcasting internship. The next thing she knew, Lavender was welcomed as a guest analyst for the Sky’s last three home games this season.

The experience was as great as she imagined it would be and it opened doors for her.

Lavender recently signed a deal to be a women’s basketball color analyst on the Big Ten Network for the upcoming season.

“I feel like I really didn’t have a choice [to play overseas] but I do think that it came at a time when I feel like I really need to home in and think about what I wanted to do after basketball,” Lavender said. “God makes no mistakes.”

While Lavender preps for her new gig, Sky forward Cheyenne Parker is preparing for her sixth season overseas.

Don’t get her wrong: Parker is excited about embarking on another overseas adventure. But as she gets older, the grind of year-round schedule is becoming more difficult.

“After awhile, it’s for one, a lot on the body and then for two, it’s a lot on your personal life,” said Parker, who flew to China on Thursday. “Say you wanted to start a family or you wanted to open a business or just be in your nieces [and] nephews’ lives and watching them grow, you’re missing all that because you have to play a year-round season.”

In a perfect world, Parker wouldn’t have to play overseas. And it’s time, she said, for the WNBA to “make a change” and invest in its players.

Keeping players stateside would only positively impact the league. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said expanding the league’s fanbase is a priority. And an obvious way to do that is by having the WNBA’s star players active in the basketball community and visible at NBA events throughout the sport’s natural season.

“It would give us the opportunity to not only be seen but also get active in other things whether it’s movies or business or you know basketball camps, appearances,” Parker said. “They say the reason that we’re not getting the money that the men players are getting is because we don’t get the revenue, the attention, well that’s how you start by keeping our a--es in the country.”

But like most things in life, money is the root of the WNBA’s problem.

“If they could give us the option to stay here, do events, do things to promote the league and we can still make money and we can still make a living and live a lifestyle that we become accustomed to living, than I think that would definitely be an option,” Lavender said. “Until then, I’m one of those players who [doesn’t] mind going to Europe to make money.”

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