The Sky believe they’re close to their first WNBA championship. They think having Cappie Pondexter instead of Epiphanny Prince as their starting shooting guard gets them even closer.
“I think you’re always looking to improve your team and maximize the moment that you’re in in terms of adding quality players to your roster that not only improves you but only improves other people,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “I think it was something that obviously is going to do that for us.”
The Sky on Monday announced the blockbuster deal, acquiring Pondexter and sending the two-time all-star Prince to her hometown New York Liberty. After reporting late because she was burned out, Prince averaged 15 points last season but struggled in the playoffs, shooting 29.6 percent and scoring just 9.2 per game.
Pondexter’s a six-time all-star who’s won two WNBA titles with the Phoenix Mercury, an Olympic gold in 2008 and was named Illinois Miss Basketball in 2000 and 2001 at Marshall High School. And getting the chance to come home is something that means a lot to Pondexter, who’s already looking forward to their June 5 home opener but has other things in mind.
“I’m sure it will be legendary being announced by the guy who announced Michael Jordan,” Pondexter said, referencing Sky public address announcer Ray Clay. “It’s kind of overwhelming. I’m excited and I know I’ll be welcome with open arms. For me, I’m just trying to look past all of that. Being able to compete for a championship with a team that actually can do it is something that’s really important for me.”
Seeing Pondexter with the Sky will also be special for Marshall coach Dorothy Gaters. A winner of over 1,000 games, Gaters is a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and one of the most successful high school coaches in the country.
Pondexter, of course, was one of her prized pupils. Now Gaters will get to see Pondexter play close to home for the Sky, who figure to be one of the preseason favorites for the WNBA championship.
“I think there would be a lot of excitement (if Pondexter and the Sky won the championship). She was a champion here in high school. We certainly hope the same for her at the professional level,” Gaters said. “She’s been a champion everywhere – champion in Phoenix, a Euro champion. I hope she can do the same for the city of Chicago.”
But even with the local ties, Monday’s trade doesn’t come without risks for the Sky.
Pondexter will face the pressure of being a big-name, local athlete coming home. And at 32, Pondexter is five years older than Prince and coming off a season when she struggled with an Achilles and groin issues, averaging a career-low 13.2 points per game.
Fortunately for the Sky, Pondexter says she feels “rejuvenated” playing this offseason in Australia, which has a less grueling schedule than the European leagues she used to play in over the winter. Beyond that, Chatman thinks Pondexter’s experience, desire to be in Chicago and ability to play the way the Sky want will make her a better fit than Prince.
“It’s not a knock against Piph at all. Every player struggles – you could argue that Cappie had a tough year for whatever reason (with) a little bit of a leg injury. Piph had other issues,” Chatman said. “I think it comes down to putting what you know about these players in the mix and getting the best out of them. I think with experience and what we lacked in terms of the personality of someone who just wanted to get in someone’s face and lead, I think that all helps our franchise.”
NOTE: Chatman said she’s confident unrestricted free agent Allie Quigley will return and that they are hoping to release something in the next couple days.