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Built Tough: How the Sky’s identity that was built in the offseason is translating early in camp

1 year agoKarli Bell

Isabelle Harrison blocked an inside shot with some ferocity during the early days of training camp, and the baseline filled with the rest of the Sky roster screamed with excitement; applause and joyous yells filled the gym at Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield, Ill.

On the next play, WNBA draft pick Kayana Traylor poked the ball away and pushed the ball up the floor. 

The next play: Courtney Williams traps and gets another steal.

Even today, I was just thinking like, ‘Man, we play so hard,’ and when you’re on the opposite side of that, it can be really frustrating,” Sky center/forward Elizabeth Williams said after practice.

Williams faced that level of intensity from the Sky last season when she was a member of the Atlanta Dream, and she was going up against a litany of WNBA All-Stars in the post — Candace Parker, Emma Meesseman and Azurá Stevens.

Even with those All-Stars going their own way with a new team, that strength, grit and power did not leave with them.

“The toughness that’s what’s really showing. I feel like that’s gonna be our identity this year,” Sky guard Rebekah Gardner said.

“I think our identity needs to be more defensively minded, and then obviously, the points will come. I think we have a team that can defend. I think we’re younger than we were in the past,” guard Dana Evans said.

Age is a factor in how fast this team will be. The average age of the 2022 Sky’s starting lineup was 32 years old; this year it’s 26. However, it’s the overlooked mentality, willpower and drive that is uniting this team defensively.

“I think that everybody is an underdog in some type of way. Then to come to a team that is an underdog, it just pretty much shapes out what we want to do,” Sky guard Kahleah Copper said.

General manager James Wade knew that having equal-minded people around his all-star guard in Copper was the top priority for him in free agency, allowing him to build a winning team and culture.

“We have to put a team around [Kahleah] that can compete, that’s going to have her identity, and that’s going to go to war. So that was my thinking around how can we help her be a leader of a group of players that she can actually lead. I think we were able to do that. It’s in your face, and it’s gritty. That’s what we’re gonna try to be.”

As the roster starts to come together, players are projecting success based around their defensive mentality and drive.  

“I think once we can combine that physical level of play with our intelligence and our ability to score on offense, it’ll be tough for other teams,” Williams said.

This new identity will be revealed to the rest of “the W” on Friday when they take on the Dallas Wings in their first of three preseason games.

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