March 17, 2022
Three intriguing training camp invitees the Sky are bringing to camp in April
James Wade: In order to win you can't hide from competing and that's important to me
After the first two weeks of WNBA free agency, the Chicago Sky came out as one of the clear winners of the offseason. They retained their starting lineup from last year’s Finals run and surrounded it with complementary role players that fit Sky head coach/general manager James Wade’s ideology.
However, newly signed forward Crystal Bradford sustained a foot injury that will keep her out at least through the beginning of the new season (Just Women‘s Sports’ Rachel Galligan reported Chicago waived her shortly after). So now, Wade and the Sky find themselves with an opportunity to net their next key contributor coming off the bench. They have signed a league-high eight training camp contracts, creating a competitive environment in Deerfield this April.
“One of the things that gets lost in the game of basketball is that it’s a joy to play, but it’s also a competition,” Wade told The Next on March 15. “You have to show up every day. That is what competition is about and you’re not owed anything. I try to fill out my roster with players who are willing to compete. In order to win, you can’t hide from competing and that’s important to me.”
These are the players the Sky have signed on training camp deals so far:
- Kaela Davis
- Kathleen Doyle
- Kysre Gondrezick
- Rebekah Gardner
- Tina Krajišnik
- Anneli Maley
- Imani McGee-Stafford
- Kamiah Smalls
Out of all of them, here are three players I find most intriguing out of this bunch.
Davis hasn’t played in the WNBA since 2020, when she played two minutes for the Atlanta Dream across two games. However, she showed flashes of what she could bring to a WNBA roster when she was with the Dallas Wings in 2019. At 6’1, she can use her strength and quickness to go downhill (though she only converted 23.4% of her shots around the rim in 2019, according to Synergy Sports). At times, Dallas also let her initiate offense with the second unit and averaged 2.1 assists in 19.2 minutes per game.
Three years later, Davis finds herself in a prime position to replace Bradford as the wing that backs up Kahleah Copper. She does bring a different skillset than Bradford, who proved she could be a steady three-point threat last season. Davis hasn’t shot over 32 percent from beyond the arc in her WNBA career, but Wade believes she has the talent to potentially be a contributor on his team next season.
“What intrigues me about [Davis] is her size,” said Wade. “If you watch Kaela, you see that she has all of these tools and does a lot of things well. We want to get her here and put her in a situation where she can be great and use her size and athleticism. We want to see how that complements our team.”
Davis is averaging 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game with Galatasaray S.K. If she can turn her career around with the Sky, Chicago will be able to exhale after losing Bradford.
McGee-Stafford was initially drafted by the Sky in 2016 with the 10th overall pick before she was traded to the Atlanta Dream the following season. She hasn’t played since 2019 (she earned a law degree during her time away from the WNBA), but McGee-Stafford did play in the newly founded Athletes Unlimited league earlier this year.
There’s the saying you can’t teach seven feet. Well, you can’t teach being 6’7 either, which is where McGee-Stafford last measured at, according to the WNBA’s website. The Sky wouldn’t need her to play heavy minutes if she made the roster. Even after signing former Mystics forward Emma Meesseman, Chicago lost some size in free agency after the departures of Stefanie Dolson and Astou Ndour-Fall. There is an upside bringing in a rim-runner like McGee-Stafford when the Sky need to turn to a bruiser in the paint.
“If [McGee-Stafford] can get back into the shape she was in the last time she was in the WNBA, she can be in two places at one time with her length,” said Wade. “She’s athletic, and she can shoot a three. I’ve seen her form and it’s fine. It’s just about getting her in a position where she is taking and making them. I’m confident in our player development coaches, but the fact that she can defend at the rim without fouling is a big plus and she can get up and down the floor.”
McGee-Stafford has only taken seven three-point attempts in her WNBA career, but if she can stretch the floor (a prerequisite for Wade’s bigs in the past), she could find her way onto the Sky’s opening day roster.
Gardner might be the most fascinating player to look out for heading into training camp. The 31-year-old went undrafted in the 2012 draft coming out of UCLA. Gardner is playing in Spain for Spar CityLift Girona and has had a solid season so far. She is averaging 14.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG and hitting 36.6% of her three-point opportunities.
Wade, who lives in southern France, has had a chance to see Gardner compete against WNBA players of the likes of Gabby Williams, Diamond DeShields, Kayla McBride and Kahleah Copper. He liked what he saw.
“When you lose athleticism, you have to find it in any way you can,” said Wade. “The fact that she has WNBA level athleticism, gets a lot of deflections, blocking shots…her activity drew me to her. I think she is a WNBA player.”
Gardner has a soft touch from beyond the arc and, at 6’1, has the length to possibly compete at the WNBA level. If Wade’s assessment of her is right, Gardner could beat out Davis to be the clear No. 2 option at the wing behind Copper. Her stretchability alone might give her the edge between those two heading into training camp.