June 29, 2024 

How Marina Mabrey leads the Chicago Sky

Isabelle Harrison: 'She always has some shit to say, but like in the most competitive way'

Combo guard Marina Mabrey is carrying a heavy load for the Chicago Sky. 

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

After former franchise player Kahleah Copper requested and received a trade in the offseason, much of the team’s outside shooting, perimeter defense and leadership load now falls on Mabrey. 

“I’ve asked a lot of Marina,” Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon told reporters at the beginning of the season. 

Typically assigned to guard one of the opponent’s top scorers, Mabrey is also the focal point of defenses around the league. 

“You can’t give her any space,” Dallas Wings head coach Latricia Trammell told reporters before a game against the Sky on June 20. “She has such a quick release. So the point of attack has to be really strong. [When she’s] coming off pin-downs or staggers … you’ve gotta be really active in that action because if she gets hot, teams better look out.”

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.

Mabrey leads the Sky in scoring with 14.9 points per game. She’s hit 37 of the team’s 65 3-pointers. And she’s approached the increase in defensive pressure with patience and an eye toward the advantages it creates for her teammates.

“Sometimes maybe I just need to be a screener,” Mabrey told reporters after practice in June. “Sometimes I need to get 10 rebounds, 10 assists. [I let my teammates] know that if they’re gonna center on one person, then cool. It’s gonna be your night to go off.”

But the schemes from opposing defenses mean fewer easy looks for Mabrey. Per WNBA Stats, 35.1% of her 3-pointers are unassisted this season, meaning she had to create the shot opportunity herself. That’s up from 21.3% in 2023. Partly as a result, her 3-point shooting percentage of 34.6% is her lowest since 2021.

It’s not just defenses, though. Mabrey’s brash scoring style has always led to more difficult — and sometimes riskier — shots. Throughout her WNBA career, an overwhelming majority of her 3-point attempts have come from at least 2 feet behind the line. And two of the hardest shots in basketball — stepbacks and fadeaways — are a regular part of Mabrey’s arsenal.

“She honestly believes every shot’s going in. I don’t care where she’s taking it from,” said Trammell, who coached Mabrey on the Los Angeles Sparks in 2019.

Leading with accountability

So far this season, Mabrey’s leadership centers around holding herself and her team accountable. At the end of the 2023 season, Mabrey acknowledged she needed to get stronger and be in better shape.

“I saw the effort that she put in to take care of her body,” Elizabeth Williams told The Next about Mabrey’s offseason work. “Making sure she was in the best shape. Eating well. It was really a point of emphasis for her.” 

Being brutally honest in her self-assessment and following through with improvements has allowed Mabrey to carry a heavier load. She brings the same blunt assessments to her team’s performance.

“We melted down in the fourth quarter,” Mabrey told reporters after a June 4 loss to the New York Liberty.

The Sky led that game for three quarters but ended up losing 88-75. Later in the press conference, a reporter suggested that playing three good quarters against a title-contending Liberty team should make the Sky proud. 

“I mean, it’s great,” Mabrey said. “You know what, I’m not gonna say that, actually. No, it’s not great to be in the game with them. We should have won.”

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.

The most competitive Mabrey

Growing up, Mabrey sharpened her edge on the most competitive people around: her four siblings. Michaela, Mabrey’s eldest sister, captained Notre Dame when Mabrey was a freshman. Her youngest sister, Dara, became the Mabrey with the most made 3-pointers in their college career.1

Of this ultra-competitive clan, Marina’s desire to win is the strongest. Now, Mabrey’s teammates recognize the way this fuels the Sky. 

“She always has some shit to say, but like in the most competitive way,” veteran forward Isabelle Harrison told The Next. “It fires you up. It’s something you need on your team, to be a little edgy.” 

However, an athlete’s greatest strength can also be their biggest challenge. Sometimes Mabrey’s temper causes her to lose focus.

Chicago guard Marina Mabrey holds her hands out and shouts in frustration.
Chicago Sky guard Marina Mabrey expresses frustration in a game against the Washington Mystics at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 14, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

“You know, it can be ego in some form,” Mabrey told The Next. “You don’t wanna have too much ego where it gets in the way, but you wanna have some pride. Like, ‘No, you’re not gonna take this from me right now.'”

This season, she’s working with Michaela — now an assistant coach at Notre Dame — and a mindset coach on keeping her cool.

“I’ve tried to coin to her to just kind of ‘get past mad,’” Sky assistant coach Sydney Johnson told The Next. “Like, she cares so much. That’s a phenomenal thing. … But then channel that to something that’s going to affect the outcome.”

Sky point guard Dana Evans told The Next she believes Mabrey has been a steadier presence this season. Increasingly, Mabrey is the one talking down teammates in hot moments. Other times, though, she needs some soothing words herself.

“When you put your life into something and you dedicate to something, you’re not gonna let somebody just come in and take that,” Mabrey said of her intensity.

Order ‘Rare Gems’ and save 30%

Howard Megdal, founder and editor of The Next and The IX, released his next book on May 7, 2024. This deeply reported story follows four connected generations of women’s basketball pioneers, from Elvera “Peps” Neuman to Cheryl Reeve and from Lindsay Whalen to Sylvia Fowles and Paige Bueckers.

If you enjoy his coverage of women’s basketball every Wednesday at The IX, you will love “Rare Gems: How Four Generations of Women Paved the Way for the WNBA.” Click the link below to order and enter MEGDAL30 at checkout.

Becoming a more complete player

Drafted No. 19 by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2019, many observers expected Mabrey’s impact in the league to be limited to 3-point shooting. Instead, she became a multi-level scorer who rebounds, defends and distributes at a high level.

She is currently one of only four players in the league averaging more than 14 points, four rebounds, assists, and one steal per game. (When asked to name the other three, she rattled them off without hesitation.)

“She’s gotten better every year and that’s the tell-tale [sign] of a good pro,” Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray, who played with Mabrey during her rookie season, told The Next.

Mabrey’s floor game improvements

Category2021-2023 per-game average2024 per-game average2024 rank among guards
Assist-to-turnover ratio1.511.6535
Source: WNBA Stats

Though Mabrey’s game has improved steadily, her career trajectory has lacked continuity. The Sky are her third team in six seasons. Midway through her first season with the Sky, head coach James Wade abruptly left the team.

Despite this volatility, Mabrey is helping bring stability. When Williams went down with a torn meniscus in early June, Mabrey became the only remaining player who started for the Sky in 2023.

Taking pressure off the rookies

As Mabrey develops, she’s taking responsibility for Sky rookies Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese. Both rookies brought much-deserved attention to the WNBA. But media and fan narratives sometimes unfairly pit certain players against each other, including Reese against Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark.

Before the Sky’s June 23 game against the Fever, Mabrey told reporters, “If they wanna hype this up and have it be an Indiana-Chicago thing … I’m so excited about that. But I would want to keep it Indiana-Chicago [rather than an individual rivalry between Clark and Reese]. 

“Sometimes if you are that young and it seems like it’s you versus the other player, like, that’s hard. That’s a lot. So I try to remind our rookies: We got your back. It’s not just you. We’re gonna play together. … I hope that takes the pressure off.”

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.

Reese and Cardoso both excelled in the Sky’s first win against the Fever, shooting a combined 15-for-21 and accounting for 41 of the team’s 88 points. Mabrey had a tougher shooting night, missing nine of her 10 shots from behind the arc and two late free throws.

But she delivered on her floor game, tallying five rebounds, four assists and a steal in the 88-87 victory.

“Everybody’s going to talk about the [missed] free throws,” Weatherspoon told reporters after the game. “We don’t need to talk to Marina. Nobody knows better than Marina. Marina knows what she has to do.”

  1. Without the extra COVID-19 year, though, Dara Mabrey would have fallen six 3-pointers shy of Marina’s career total (268 for Dara, 274 for Marina). On the other hand, Dara still played fewer overall games in her career than Marina (135 to 144). ↩︎

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. Before joining The Next, she co-founded the Sky Townies.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.