May 12, 2024 

What if the Chicago Sky can defy expectations?

Preseason rout of Liberty creates optimism around an underdog run

CHICAGO — After the Chicago Sky beat the New York Liberty 101-53 in a preseason home game on Tuesday, fans had to be thinking about an underdog run. Despite the Liberty returning their core from their 2023 WNBA Finals appearance, the Sky looked far more cohesive and hungry to make a statement.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

Of course, the preseason carries only so much weight.

The Liberty enter the regular season with a collection of league MVPs and all-time greats. Nobody on the Sky roster has ever started an All-Star Game. In addition, Chicago has a new head coach, two high-profile rookies who will play big minutes and a totally revamped roster.

As a result, ESPN ranked the Sky last in its preseason power rankings.

But what if the sum of the parts turns out to be something greater than anyone imagined?  The Sky’s fate this season may depend on the answers to the following four questions.

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

1. Can Marina Mabrey develop into a superstar? 

To bring Marina Mabrey to the Sky from the Dallas Wings in 2023, then-general manager James Wade traded away two first-round draft picks as well as the right to swap first-round picks in 2025.

That meant the organization missed the opportunity to draft up-and-comers such as Zia Cooke and Jordan Horston in 2023. It then traded franchise star Kahleah Copper to recoup draft capital in 2024.

Should the Sky fail to make the playoffs this year and win the draft lottery, the right to draft college stars such as UConn’s Paige Bueckers will belong to Dallas.

In other words: The Mabrey deal was risky!

To justify its cost, Wade needed to develop Mabrey into one of the best players in the league. Instead, he left midway through the 2023 season for a job with the Toronto Raptors. The pressure of validating the deal landed squarely on Mabrey’s shoulders. 

Your business can reach over 3 million women’s sports fans every single month!

Here at The Next and The IX, our audience is a collection of the smartest, most passionate women’s sports fans in the world. If your business has a mission to serve these fans, reach out to our team at to discuss ways to work together.

To her credit, Mabrey took a meaningful step forward in 2023. She averaged a career-high 15 points per game and set the franchise record for most 3-pointers in a season with 89. But consistency was an issue, as she failed to score in double digits eight times last season. Compared to premiere guards such as Jackie Young, Jewell Loyd or Kelsey Plum, that’s too many.

In Tuesday’s preseason game, Mabrey scored a game-high 20 points and was efficient from inside and outside the arc. By definition, one game tells us nothing about consistency. But Mabrey’s shooting confidence, range and quick release are difficult to ignore. The potential to become one of the league’s best shooters is there.

If Mabrey can lead the Sky to the playoffs this year, it may change the assessment of Wade’s gamble from “fiasco” to “interesting choice.”

Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields dribbles with her left hand on a breakaway.
Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields breaks away from defenders in a game against the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sept. 26, 2021. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

2. Does the new Sky leadership have the right vision?

In building their first Sky roster, head coach Teresa Weatherspoon and general manager Jeff Pagliocca prioritized defense and competitiveness. They drafted two post players — Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese — who must improve offensively but are tough, proven champions at the college level.

The potential of this vision became clearer against the Liberty when viewed alongside its complement: speed. Sky guards Dana Evans, Diamond DeShields and Chennedy Carter consistently beat the Liberty down the floor, which led to easy transition buckets.

Tough on the inside and fast on the wings was working for Chicago.

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

Weatherspoon showed an early command of balancing these components. With a team stacked with posts, she started an almost comically small lineup of Evans, Mabrey, DeShields, Michaela Onyenwere and Reese.

The lineup neutralized the Liberty, who did not score in the first five minutes of play. Onyenwere, a 6′ forward, held reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart to one shot attempt during that span, while Reese outhustled and outperformed Stewart and Jonquel Jones

Then Weatherpoon brought her more experienced frontcourt players off the bench. Solid performances from Isabelle Harrison, Brianna Turner and Elizabeth Williams suggest that an injury to Cardoso may not set the team back that much.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Chennedy Carter and forward Amy Atwell jump for blocks before Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas has left her feet to shoot.
Los Angeles Sparks guard Chennedy Carter (7) and forward Amy Atwell (25) go up for blocks against Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas in a game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on May 14, 2022. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

3. Can Chennedy Carter realize her potential?

Few players embody the open-endedness of the Sky’s season more than Carter. She is known around the league as one of the more talented players in the 2020 draft class, but her stints in Atlanta and Los Angeles ended harshly. She was suspended in Atlanta and then waived in Los Angeles. 

This season, she was offered a training camp contract with the Sky. Waiting to check in at the scorer’s table against the Liberty, Carter could hardly contain her smile.

“All she wants to do is play this game of basketball,” Weatherspoon said. “All she wants to do is share her gift with everybody that’s watching.”

Her ball-handling ability and willingness to attack bigger defenders are unmatched around the league. Her crossover alone will be a treat for Sky fans to watch.

Carter’s only limitations seem to be her smaller size, her reluctance to part with the ball once she has it, and her past difficulties fitting into a team. If she is ready to make the sort of team sacrifice required of any great talent, the Sky’s future will instantly look a lot brighter. 

Chicago guard Dana Evans pressures Minnesota Lynx guard Layshia Clarendon. Clarendon holds the ball on the opposite side of their body from Evans and looks for options.
Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans (11) defends Minnesota Lynx guard Layshia Clarendon (7) in a game at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sept. 26, 2021. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

4. Will Dana Evans get her chance to star?

The Sky fan base has been waiting for Evans to play a bigger role ever since she arrived as a rookie in 2021. Chicago’s immediate and enduring embrace of Evans has a “rooting for the underdog” feel.

“I feel like they can see themselves in me,” Evans said of Sky fans. She is one of only five active WNBA players under 5’6.

The come-up for Evans began in 2023, when her minutes nearly doubled from the previous season. So did her shot attempts.

Against the Liberty, she got into the lane, launched deep threes and pushed the pace, and she did all that with a sharpened skill set and a more patient approach.

“Dana can do whatever Dana wants to do on that floor,” Weatherspoon said. “We trust Dana. Everyone trusts Dana.” 

A legendary point guard in her own playing days, Weatherspoon has been counseling Evans to facilitate first and then inject herself. Evans finished the game with seven assists and no turnovers to go along with 19 points.

If Evans can regularly produce that kind of stat line, a starting spot and a chance at stardom will be hers.

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

With the outcome of the game decided by the third quarter, fans relaxed and returned to familiar stadium rituals. During one timeout, two fans competed to unwrap a Sky T-shirt the fastest.

The wrapping was sticky, knotted and surprisingly strong. But after an extended struggle, the fans wrestled the T-shirts free.

The moment echoed the experience of being a WNBA fan, particularly for a fan base that watched the Sky’s preseason opener against the Minnesota Lynx streamed on a Lynx fan’s phone.

As the WNBA enters its 28th season, patience around product wrapping continues to be a virtue. Patience may be needed for the Sky this season, too — but there’s also a chance they could defy expectations.

Written by Alissa Hirsh

Alissa Hirsh covers the Chicago Sky for The Next. She is also a high school basketball coach at her alma mater and is writing a memoir about the difficulty in leaving her college basketball career behind. Her hometown of Skokie, Illinois, is known for having the top bagel options in the Chicagoland area.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.