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Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter shows what it’s like to be exec at WNBA Draft

Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter overlooks the WNBA draft at Nike Headquarters in New York. | Madeline Kenney/Chicago Sun-Times

NEW YORK — Sky owner Michael Alter was looking for a quiet spot to camp out and watch the 2019 WNBA Draft on Wednesday at Nike Headquarters in New York. He didn’t want to sit in the middle of all the commotion on the second floor, where the ceremony was held. Instead, he settled for a small round high-top table in the corner on the third floor that gave him a bird’s-eye view of the event.

“It’s not about me,” Alter said.

This was Alter’s first time attending the WNBA Draft. In past years, Alter watched the draft in the Sky’s office surrounded by the coaching staff. Alter planned to do that again this year, but he had to represent the Sky at a league meeting in New York the morning of the event.

Alter arrived on site roughly 1½ hours before the draft began. He happily mingled with agents, league officials and coaches on the main floor. It seemed like everyone knew Alter and he knew them (though between us, he forgot one person’s name).

On several occasions, Alter was asked what the Sky planned to do with the fourth overall pick, and he refused to say.

“You’re the surprise of the draft,” one agent nudged him.

“I know,” he said with a smirk.

On the surface, Alter seemed calm throughout the pre-draft cocktail party. He said several times that he wasn’t nervous, though he seemed slightly on edge when general manager and coach James Wade, who is in Hungary for the Euroleague playoffs, didn’t answer his phone call 30 minutes before the draft began. Wade eventually got back to Alter and said he missed the call because he was on the phone with a league official going over the rules.

Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter checks in with general manager James Wade before the WNBA draft. | | Madeline Kenney/Chicago Sun-Times

When everyone took their seats, Alter went upstairs and pulled out his iPad to watch ESPN’s broadcast. As the names began to be called, Alter correctly predicted the No. 2 and 3 picks. Then, it was the Sky’s turn.

“So, do you want to know who we’re picking?” Alter asked once the Sky were on the clock. “I’ll give you a hint, it’s a UConn player.”

Moments later, WNBA chief operating officer Christin Hedgpeth announced Katie Lou Samuelson as the Sky’s first-round pick.

Alter joined the audience in clapping for the newest member of his team. Moments later, he made his way to the main floor to meet Samuelson and welcome her to the team.

Chicago Sky Michael Alter shook hands with Katie Lou Samuelson, whom the Sky selected with the fourth overall pick. | Madeline Kenney/Chicago Sun-Times

After all was said and done, Alter sighed in relief and explained why he wasn’t anxious for Wade.

“I wasn’t nervous by the way, because we were fairly sure we were going to get who we wanted,” Alter said. “When you get nervous is when you don’t have control. We’ve never had a No. 1 pick ever, which is kind of crazy, so unless you’re picking first, you don’t know for sure even though you spend a lot of time before the draft trying to figure out who is going to do what.

“[You’re] talking to other GMs, agents. Some people talk more than other people, some people know more, some people tell you one thing. You have to kind of sift through some things of what they say and what they don’t say to try and make an educated guess. Of course, no one knows for sure. And anyone can change their mind at any point in time . . . which is why you’re always a little bit on edge of what might happen until it actually goes out.”

Leading up to the draft, the Sky coaching staff watched countless hours of film and spoke to coaches and scouts about players. Wade filled Alter in throughout the process.

“I’m not the X and O’s guy and the basketball guy,’’ Alter said. ‘‘I see my job as I work with James . . . [as] just to question him and push him, making sure he’s thinking things through, making sure he’s acting in a vision or map of what he’s trying to do. [I] just sort of question his assumptions, his biases, making sure that he’s thinking about it the right way, it’s more process.

“Sometimes I share some of my views about a particular player one way or another, but really, I don’t want to make a decision, but I want to help him think about it.”

Now that the draft is over, Alter is looking forward to training camp, which opens on May 5.

“We got a new coach, we have a great young team, great players, so I’m excited anyway,” Alter said. “This is just kind of the added piece that we were able to get, and we were able to get a really good player.”