Since WNBA players arrived in Bradenton, Florida, earlier this month, the big story has been how they’re settling into their new lives in a bubble ahead of a pandemic-shortened 22-game season.
The Sky have used bicycles to get around campus and have held game nights and choreographed TikTok videos to help with team bonding. Guards Diamond DeShields and Sydney Colson — who hasn’t yet joined the team after she tested positive for the coronavirus late last month — have joked about starting their own “Chameleon Catching Club,” in which they’ll “safely remove lizards from your dwelling and lovingly release them outside,” according to a tweet by Colson.
But in spite of the fun and games chronicled on social media, let’s get one thing clear: They’re not there for amusement.
“The Chicago Sky is not here on vacation,” DeShields said. “We came here to play basketball. We came here to compete for a championship.”
Given the circumstances of this shortened training camp and season, the Sky are poised to do just that. Coming off 20 wins in 2019, they are one of the more well-rounded and established teams, having kept most of their roster intact even as many top WNBA talents switched teams during free agency. The Sky are hoping to use familiarity that other teams are lacking as an advantage.
“That’s the blessing about our team — we came into this season already a cohesive unit,” said DeShields, who led the Sky in scoring with an average of 16.2 points last season. “We didn’t make too many roster changes. Obviously, [center Jantel Lavender] isn’t here[after foot surgery], and we added [forward Azura Stevens] and [guard] Stella [Johnson] and [forward] Ruthy [Hebard], but as far as team cohesiveness, we’re pretty solid there.”
While chemistry is important, there are several other teams loaded with talent that could foil the Sky’s plans to win their first title. Hampered by injuries last season, the Storm are welcoming back 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and 11-time All-Star Sue Bird. The Mercury will have a healthy Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith in the mix this season, and the Sparks also are stacked with All-Stars.
The Sky were ranked seventh in ESPN’s latest power rankings, one spot lower than they were on the previous list.
Coach James Wade advised his players to ignore the outside noise. During a practice this week, he called them into a huddle and had a simple message.
“We don’t have no ceiling,” Wade said. “We’re the [expletive] Sky — there ain’t no ceiling on the Sky.”
Wade doesn’t like to publicly set goals for the team. Asked what success would look like this season, he kept it vague.
“What it would look like, if you were talking about me coaching this group, is for us to get everything out of what we could — and I don’t know what that means as far as playoffs, championships, but I could tell you once we get there.”
A lot of Wade’s players are more direct about where they see themselves.
“This team is a championship team,” forward Cheyenne Parker said. “And this year is going to be a really good year for us.”
Added guard Courtney Vandersloot: “We all sacrificed to be here, you know? Time with our families, away from our pets, away from important things that we want to do. And so we’re going to make the best of it, and we’re here to win a championship. I think that’s motivation.”