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Chicago Sky lack ‘winning culture,’ and James Wade wants to fix that

Courtney Vandersloot said complacency was one of the Sky's biggest problems last season. | Chicago Sky

After playing basketball in Turkey the last three winters, Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot spent this offseason in Russia with UMMC Ekaterinburg, which just so happens to have new Sky coach and general manager James Wade as an assistant coach.

Vandersloot, whom the Sky designated as a core player in January, said Wade played a vital role in helping her adjust to her new surroundings, and she hopes to help him in a similar capacity when the Sky open training camp May 5.  Over the last few months, the two have built a special bond, routinely bouncing ideas off one another about how they can make the Sky more successful this season.

Vandersloot identified complacency as one of the team’s biggest problems last year.

“We’ve almost established a losing culture,” she told the Sun-Times by phone. “We’re out there competing and we’re trying to win games, but we became a little bit too comfortable.

“It was never on purpose, it was never intentional, but we never had that experience to know what it’s like [to win a championship]. We can fake it because we think this is what you do to create a winning culture, but until you really have a championship or have that type of franchise, you don’t really know.”

Wade, on the other hand, does know. He coached several seasons under Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve — including the Lynx’s 2017 championship season — and coached for the San Antonio Stars under Dan Hughes. Both Reeve and Hughes are two-time WNBA Coach of the Year winners, with a combined five championships.

Last spring, Wade also helped UMMC, the top women’s club in Russia, win the Super Cup, along with the Euroleague and Russian League titles.

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Wade believes his experience can help him change the Sky’s trajectory. Asked how he plans to get the players to buy into his methodology, he said: “The thing is, we have no choice. Our backs are against the wall. We have to win.

“Every little detail, there’s going to be accountability. Coming from the program that I came from, I saw how we handle things, I saw how we handle players, and it just gave me a blueprint for what it takes. And I’m going to use that to my strength.”

Wade doesn’t want to talk about the Sky making the playoffs, noting that’s not his immediate goal. Instead, he wants to focus on the “little details” that will help the team get better overall.

There’s no denying they have the talent to compete. They have the two best three-point shooters in the WNBA in Vandersloot and guard Allie Quigley. They also have a great deal of younger talent in Diamond DeShields, Cheyenne Parker and Gabby Williams — none of whom has reached her ceiling. And though Stefanie Dolson is coming off a down year, Wade sees no reason why she can’t return to All-Star form.

Vandersloot is eager to get back to Chicago next month and start working with the team. Her coach might not want to predict the Sky going to playoffs, but Vandersloot says it’s possible.

“If we play to our best potential and really create a good environment, then we should be a playoff team,” she said. “And we should be competing for a championship, too. I’m not saying that we’re going to be winning a championship next year — we have steps to take — but we are a playoff-caliber team that should be competing and playing for something.”