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Sky view 2023 as important foundational season

10 months agoKarli Bell

The Chicago Sky came into the 2023 season with a whole new set of faces and names as both Kahleah Copper and former head coach/general manager James Wade set out to build a roster around the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP.

The injury bug ran rampant through the roster, starting with early season-ending losses of Isabelle Harrison and Rebekah Gardner in the first two weeks of the season. The bumps and bruises started to add up to where the Sky had just 7 available players in the middle of June.

The rollercoaster season didn’t stop there, as Wade left the team shortly before the WNBA All-Star break for an assistant coaching position with the Toronto Raptors. Now, this brand new roster fell into the hands of assistant coach Emre Vatansever, with all eyes on the postseason coming into the second half of the WNBA season.

“We so easily could have just complained the whole time about how hard it was or made excuses for ourselves, but I don’t think we did that,” Alanna Smith said in her exit interview. “I think we just tried to meet each day with a new sense of urgency and just did the best with what we got.

The grind of the final two weeks of the season showed sparks of what a healthy Chicago Sky team can be as they continued to grow as a unit. They set a goal in winning at least 6 of their final 8 games, and did that to punch their way to the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season, the longest streak in franchise history.

“I can say [this season’s] a good foundation, because I’m a winner,” Copper said after the Game 2 loss to Las Vegas in the first round of the playoffs. “For me, it was about making the playoffs to start and then competing from there. It’s a stepping stone. We wanted to be a part of that 8 and wanted to be able to go out there and compete in a full season.”

The Sky took another step in keeping this roster together with Copper signing a 2-year contract extension at the end of the regular season. Copper joins several other Sky players, including Elizabeth Williams, who will be returning next season, leading to a long-term foundation being set by the franchise.

“You saw glimpses of what could be really great with us,” Williams said. “Now that we have at least played together for a little bit, we have some level of understanding of each other of how we communicate where we want to be.” 

Those glimpses showed in the late-season push, particularly in their playoff-clinching win over the Minnesota Lynx. The nerves were felt early, but the team translated that energy onto the hardwood with both Copper and Mabrey finding offensive rhythm for an entire game. The fluidity of this team started to show and they hope to carry that chemistry into a brighter 2024.

“Anytime you have a tough season where there’s a lot of ups and downs and challenges to fight through individually and as a team, it creates growth in every player and in the whole organization as a collective unit,” Mabrey said. “I feel like as far dark as it goes is as far light as it’s going to go; so I’m excited to see the light next season.”

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