April 22, 2021 

Dissecting the Chicago Sky’s training camp questions

20-person camp roster released; chemistry sought

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Shyla Heal. (screenshot from WNBA Content Network)

After a Covid-19 shortened season spent cloistered in a Florida bubble in 2020, the Chicago Sky announced its 20-player roster for its 2021 training camp, which begins this Sunday, April 25, at the team’s practice facility in Deerfield.

Just being in the Deerfield facility signals a return to life before Covid, and the Sky made clear its intention for 2021, with one of most prolific offseasons in franchise history, filled with promising acquisitions that have the potential for immediate impact.

The task looms large for Head Coach/General Manager James Wade to build a cohesive championship-level team out of these talented, successful, yet still-disparate parts.

That’s the purpose of training camp — to figure out who has the best chemistry together, who can lead, and who can command in clutch situations.

And for some, training camp will determine who might go home.

Here’s a few keys to look for as training camp opens:

Candace Parker: The undisputed leader

Not since Elena Delle Donne left for Washington have the Sky had a player who could take a game on her shoulders and lift all players around her. Candace Parker always had that ability, even at Naperville Central High School, where she was Ms. Basketball three times. Now, the two-time WNBA MVP will make her official debut as the new team leader. That leadership must start from Day 1.

After 13 years and two WNBA championships with the Los Angeles Sparks, why did she come back?

“Chicago is where my family raised me; where I first learned the game of basketball; and where I first fell in love with this orange ball,” she told the Chicago Tribune in February. “I am excited to continue the next chapter of my career where it all began. To my new teammates, my new organization, and my new fans: I’m home.”

Chicago once had the Jordanaires…here come the Parker-ettes?

Another potential powerhouse could be the return of Astou Ndour, who spent 2018 and 2019 with the Sky, back after one season with the Dallas Wings. Ndour, who helped Spain earn a silver Olympic medal, was drafted by San Antonio with the 16th overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft.

Among those returning from the Sky’s 2020 roster is back-to-back WNBA All-First Team recipient Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper, Diamond DeShields, Stefanie Dolson, Ruthy Hebard, Allie Quigley, Azurá Stevens and Gabby Williams.

The Sky’s 2021 first round draft choice, #8 Shyla Heal, joins as the youngest player to make the roster at the age of 19. Wade made no secret of his high expectations for Heal, the daughter of former NBA pro Shane Heal.

“Once we talked to her, she just blew us off the charts,” Wade said on draft night. “She loves basketball. She does things that normal 19-year-olds won’t do.”

One thing that not many 19-year-olds do is earn WNBL Player of the Year honors, as Heal did, after averaging 25.3 points and 7.3 assists per game with the Townsville Fire in 2020. 

Heal is one of seven rookies to earn an invite to training camp, including 2021 WBCA Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Mack, who was selected by the Sky with the 16th overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft from Oklahoma State.

In addition, the Chicago Sky signed eight players to training camp contracts: guard Brittany Boyd, guard Lexie Brown, forward Sierra Campisano, guard Petra Holesinska, former DePaul guard Jessica January, forward Alexis Prince, former UTEP sixth player Sparkle Taylor and forward Kobi Thornton.

Of the talent mentioned here, not all will stay. The Sky has to eliminate eight of the 20, trimming its roster to 12 players no later than 4:00 p.m. CT on May 13.

Who will stay and who will go? Rumors were rife on Draft Day that 2018 draft pick Gabby Williams was on the block. Nothing has happened yet, so we’re just going to watch and wait. And maybe ask a question at the next presser.

The 2021 WNBA preseason will begin on May 1 and run through May 11. The pre-season schedule is to be determined.

Following preseason, the Sky’s opener is a challenge of stars: a head-to-head meeting between Parker and Delle Donne, leading the Washington Mystics in Washington, D.C. on May 15 at noon CT. 

The 2021 WNBA season will feature 32 games instead of the initially planned 36-game schedule due to the ongoing pandemic and Olympic break.

Written by Alison Moran-Powers

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