July 10, 2023 

Chicago Sky notebook: Life after James Wade

Courtney Williams thriving as lead facilitator

A new chapter of Chicago Sky basketball is starting to be written.

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After former Sky head coach/general manager James Wade unexpectedly stepped down from his role nine days ago, the organization has maintained a united front as it moves forward without one of its biggest pillars of the last five years. It’s a “next person up” mentality the Sky have exercised throughout the entirety of the 2023 season as the team has struggled to fend off the injury bug.

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As Sky big Alanna Smith pointed out last week, Chicago’s best path forward is only focusing on what the team can control.

“I feel like James gave us the opportunity but it was [on] us to see what we could do with it,” Smith said on July 2. “I feel like we have put the league on notice a little bit like, ‘Hey, we can make an impact when we get the opportunity to play.’ James gave us that platform to show what we can do and so we are just going to keep doing what we are doing.”

Under interim head coach/general manager Emre Vatansever, the Sky have gone 1-2. Here are a few notes as the Sky navigate a post-James Wade reality the rest of the way.

Vatansever’s coaching style

While the sudden loss of Wade stung in the moment, Vatansever is a familiar face for everyone in the organization. The long-time assistant coach has been with the Sky since 2017 and led the team to two wins last season when Wade was sick with COVID-19. In Wade’s absence, Vatansever mentioned how special it was for him to get an opportunity to lead a team on his own.

Vatansever will now get an extended chance to showcase what he can provide in the coach’s box but his primary focus isn’t on the past or what he could gain down the road with this experience.

“Nothing has changed for me,” Vatansever said before Chicago’s 88-77 loss to the Atlanta Dream yesterday night. “I’ve been a coach for a while. I have my style. I know what I want to do, what I need to do. On the way, I learn little things. I add and I take it off.”

Vatansever added he hasn’t learned a lot about himself as a coach as much as he has learned to communicate with his players differently on a person-to-person basis. What works for one player might not work for the next.

His players have also noted the contrast in styles between Vatansever and Wade. The former brings a calmer demeanor and is only vocal when he has to be while the latter used his high energy to rile up his team when it needed to revitalized.

“Emre is a different man so he has different tactics,” Williams said. “I think there’s an adjustment but it’s still the same foundation. He’s different so he sees different things. He wants to run things a bit differently, add little tweaks and different things for what it is that he see that he thinks can help us. Overall, the foundation is there. It’s just a matter of working out the kinks.”

Courtney Williams relishing new point guard role

When Chicago was in the midst of a six-game losing streak, Wade was asked on June 28 if it was time to shake up the starting lineup and bring Williams off the bench. He scoffed at the idea and praised how she has handled a new role as the person leading the offense on a night-to-night basis.

Since then, Williams has notched her first career triple-double while averaging 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game, knocking 50% of her 2.5 three-point attempts per game. Chicago has been trying to find consistency on the offensive end throughout 2023. However, what Williams has brought as the Sky’s lead facilitator has been indispensable this year. Check out some of Williams’ key stats in the table below, and where she compares to the rest of the league:

CategoryTotal (League Rank)
Assists Per Game6.2 (fourth)
Assists Points Created*266 (fourth)
Assist-to-Turnover Ratio**2.60 (91st percentile)
At Rim Assists*54 (second)
*Data from PBP Stats
**Data from Her Hoops Stats

After her triple-double performance against the Fever, Williams took a slice of humble pie by crediting her teammates for trusting her with the offense. However, she’s been one of the –– if not the –– most important cogs to the Sky’s half court offense. They will only go as far as her and Kahleah Copper take them.

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Other notes

  • Former Sky first round pick Ruthy Hebard made her 2023 debut against the Dream after giving birth to her first child on April 30. In 5:04 minutes on the floor, Hebard grabbed one rebound while not attempting any shots.
  • Rebekah Gardner hasn’t had the chance to make the same on-court impact she did last season after breaking her foot against the Washington Mystics in May. However, she has traveled with the team and been vocal when the team watches film. Vatansever referred to her as a “great teammate” and “selfless player” ahead of the Sky’s game vs. the Dream last night.
  • Kahleah Copper was officially selected as a reserve for this year’s all-star game on July 15. This is the third year in a row Copper made the all-star team. She is the Sky’s lone selection.

Written by James Kay

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