April 11, 2023 

Chicago Sky add talent late in the 2023 WNBA Draft

Traylor, Malashka and how they fit in James Wade's vision

For the first time since 2021, the Chicago Sky were players in the WNBA draft.

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The Sky turned their lone draft picks from last night into Virginia Tech’s Kayana Traylor (23rd overall) and Middle Tennessee’s Kseniya Malashka (35th overall). The team previously had shipped off all of its draft capital ahead of the 2022 season and sent its 2023 first round pick to Dallas in a four-team trade that landed Chicago guard Marina Mabrey earlier this offseason.

Sky coach/general manager James Wade told The Next in February there are 10 spots on his roster that are “pretty much set.” However, the 2022 executive of the year could go in multiple directions with the final vacancy. Traylor, who averaged 11.0 points while shooting 33% from deep on 3.3 attempts per game, could be the one to fill it as she brings a similar, hard-nosed mentality Chicago was seeking this offseason.

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“[Traylor] is a very mature, confident and humble player that is a great teammate,” Wade told The Next after the draft. “Add those qualities to who she is as a player, as someone who can get downhill, get to the free throw line, play passing lanes, has a great shot and can score at all three levels, we thought she’s someone that can be a fit.”

Wade and his coaching staff was sold on Traylor after he had texted back and forth with people that knew her well. Based on their individual conversation with her, they had all of the intel they needed to make her the team’s first draft pick since the Sky selected Natasha Mack in the second round of the 2021 draft.

Following Traylor is Malashka, who had her first “welcome to the WNBA” moment before she was even selected. While she watched the draft with her teammates, the forward from Belarus had to take a three-hour midterm exam last night given the academic year at Middle Tennessee hasn’t ended. When her associate head coach Matt Insell called to see if he could congratulate her in person, Malashka asked if he could meet her at the library so she wasn’t late for the test.

“You could see her grinning ear to ear as she came across the parking lot [of the library],” Insell said. “She was pretty happy. She’s excited about this great opportunity.”

While she believes she did well on the test, Malashka needed time to fully take in the magnitude of the moment, as she had fully realized her dream of becoming a professional basketball player.

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“I feel like playing in the WNBA is a dream for every little girl that has tried to play basketball,” Malashka told The Next the Tuesday after the draft. “My mom was my first coach so I started playing at a very young age. People who know me know, ‘Kseniya wants to play in the WNBA’ and yesterday my dream came true.”

Malashka, who averaged 15.1 points per game coming off the bench for Middle Tennessee, had interest from five other WNBA teams, according to Insell. He said they felt confident she would be drafted but didn’t know where she would end up.

While she landed with the Sky, Malashka’s time in the WNBA might not start in 2023. Given her experience playing on Belarus’ national team and how tight the Sky’s roster is, Chicago could elect to suspend her contract while she develops away from the team. However, talks about her status in 2023 are ongoing between her agent and the Sky.

“That all remains to be seen but we’re still in discussions about it,” Wade said. “We’re just pleased with the quality of player we were able to get at that number.”

Malashka said she started watching the WNBA when she got to college and modeled her game after former Sky big Candace Parker. She referred to Parker as “incredible” and admires who the two-time champion is as a leader on and off the court. Malashka has studied the footwork of WNBA players and is hoping to, at some point, be a part of “the highest level of basketball in the world.”

Training camp is set to commence in Deerfield later this month with players like Anneli Maley, Robyn Parks, Feyonda Fitzgerald, Kristine Anigwe and Li Yueru all fighting for that final spot on Chicago’s roster. While there has been plenty of talk about who the Sky lost this offseason, Wade is beyond content with who will be working with in 2023.

“I feel like we’ve got a really good team, contrary to popular belief,” Wade said. “This is probably the most excited that I’ve been in the five years that I’ve been here.”

Written by James Kay

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