April 30, 2023 

New-look Chicago Sky keep some things the same as training camp begins

Dana Evans comes to training camp with more muscle

DEERFIELD, Ill. — The 2023 iteration of the Chicago Sky may look dramatically different than last year’s squad but some things have remained the same.

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As the Sky were finishing up their first day of training camp, Sky head coach/general manager James Wade sent Dana Evans to the free throw line. Ahead of each season, Wade designates two players to hit two free throws each at the end of practice while the rest of the team watches underneath the basket. With each missed free throw attempt, the team has to run to the end of the floor and back until a second free throw is made (in the past, some of the veterans have opted to hold a plank until everyone has returned and is filed along the baseline).

Today, Evans knocked down her first attempt. Before she set up for the next one, Wade, according to Evans, said, “when she misses the second one you all are going to have to run.”

“I said, ‘I ain’t gonna miss it,’ and it rimmed out and I said, “Alright,'” Evans said laughing. “We were just joking about it because he know I don’t really miss free throws so when I do, he capitalizes on it.”

The exercise has worked in the past for Wade. When former Chicago big Cheyenne Parker was with the Sky in 2019 and 2020, she would take on the post-practice role Evans currently has now. Parker didn’t want to be the reason her teammates had to run following hours of practice and, through the exercise, gradually upped her free throw percentage from 53.1% in 2016 to 85.5% in her last year in Chicago.

“It is kinda how we help our players become better free throw shooters, because now they have the pressure of not letting your teammates down,” Wade said. “You don’t want to see your teammates run so we’re going to go to the bank when everybody gets here and when everybody starts practicing, we’ll figure it out from there and there will be the same free throw shooters every practice.”

Here are a few quick notes coming out of the first day of training camp.

  • Sky big Li Yueru didn’t participate during the portion of practice the media was allowed to watch but was in the facility earlier in the day, according to Wade. He said Yueru is “a little banged up” so the team will not be rushing her as she tries to get back to full health.
  • When asked if Yueru would be on the roster to start the season, Wade said, “She’s here. That’s as much as I can tell you. She’s here and has been since [April] 25th so we’re just trying to take care of her physically so we can make sure she can play.”
  • 2023 third round pick Kseniya Malashka will not be suiting up in the WNBA this season. According to Wade, she has enrolled in graduate school while also be playing in Europe. She told The Next the morning after this year’s draft she was still weighing all of her options.
  • Marina Mabrey was not at camp as she finishes up her season in Italy. The Sky hope her final postseason series concludes in the next week to get her to training camp as quick as possible. (Editor’s note: Wade clarified after publication that a comment about using a private jet to get Mabrey here was only a joke. We have modified this note to reflect that.)

Dana Evans looks jacked

If you told anyone who watched the Sky’s training camp today that Evans decided to forgo living in an apartment in favor of residing in the weight room during the WNBA offseason, they would believe you.

The third-year guard came into training camp clearly having put on some muscle after a successful year playing for Besiktas in Turkey. She credited working out twice a day while finding a healthy balance between getting rest and going full-force any time she was in the weight room.

“Everybody has been telling me that,” Evans said laughing when asked about her physical makeup. “Honestly, I have strong genes. Both my parents are pretty strong but I have been putting in some work in the offseason for sure. I wanted to be in really good shape and be bigger because this league is very physical. I want to be able to take that contact and still be fine.”

Evans displayed that improved strength today, fighting through screens with a ferocity she wasn’t able to in limited action last year. As a prime most improved player candidate heading into 2023, the blend of the new-look Evans with the version of her that utilizes her quick first step to disrupt passing lanes should terrify teams around the league.

Outside of her clear physical improvement, Evans’ role with the Sky could look much different this upcoming season. She is now the third-longest tenured player on the team after the Sky went through a sizable amount of roster turnover this offseason. As someone who had to learn a new system on the fly when she was traded to the Sky in the middle of the 2021 season, Evans is making herself available to the newcomers on the team.

“I want to be there for them,” Evans said. “I want them to know that I am here if they have any questions. I just want to be better. I want to do whatever I can do for this team whether that is being vocal on the sidelines or playing. I want to be that active person [where people say], ‘She’s doing something positive right now.'”

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Ruthy Hebard working to get back on the floor

Even with stars like Kahleah Copper on the floor at Sachs Recreational Center, it was Ruthy Hebard’s three-week-old son Xzavier who stole the show today. Sky workers and media alike couldn’t take their eyes off him while principal owner Michael Alter was seen on the sidelines holding a sound asleep Xzavier in a wrapped blanket.

Hebard expressed her excitement with being a new mom and embraces the unique situation she is in as a player-parent.

“I’m just excited to have these strong women around him for him to see and there’s a bunch of strong men around,” Hebard said. “It takes strong men to work with women in sports so [Xzavier] seeing a great environment is something that I’m happy about.”

Hebard spoke with the media for a few minutes to give an update on her status for the 2023 season. The former No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft said she has been working with director of basketball operations/strength and conditioning coach Ann Crosby to get back into basketball shape. Those workouts have included doing yoga and running on the Sky’s anti-gravity treadmill. She plans on starting weight training again this week.

Hebard admitted she already misses being on the floor with her teammates as they practiced today but hopes to get back as soon as possible. Her and the team did not have a clear timetable for when she would resume basketball activities. For now, she is just enjoying the process.

“Today was awesome,” Hebard said. “I think everybody was just happy to be here and there was so much youthful energy which was great. The locker room is already fun and I’m really excited for this team.”

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Written by James Kay

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