February 24, 2023 

Chicago Sky notebook: James Wade on Dana Evans’ expanded role, Li Yueru’s status and more

James Wade on Alanna Smith: 'She's on the team'

It’s been a busy offseason for James Wade.

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Over the last two months, the Chicago Sky‘s coach/general manager has had to fly out of the country to make free agency pitches before taking on the challenge of pivoting to a new era of Sky basketball, following the departure of some of the team’s familiar faces. Now settled back home in southern France, Wade spoke with The Next yesterday to talk about the state of the team. Here are some notes that came out of the conversation.

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Alanna Smith‘s spot on the roster is secure

When the Sky finalize their roster at the start of the season, Alanna Smith will be on it.

Smith, who was drafted with the eighth overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury in 2019, signed a one-year, $100,000 unprotected deal with Chicago after turning her career around in Poland’s domestic league. She told the media last week that multiple teams were interested in her services when the Sky came in at the last minute with an offer which apparently included a guaranteed spot on the roster. It’s a move that worked for the front office last offseason when it went with the same route with Rebekah Gardner, who was one of the best value signings in the WNBA after she went undrafted out of UCLA in 2012.

“She’s on the team,” Wade said of Smith. “You can see our ten players that are pretty much set. She’s on the team just like I told you guys with Rebekah [Gardner last season]. We expect her to have a role and when she comes into training camp, she’s going to be more comfortable than the training camp players because she’s going to feel a part of it. When she comes in, she’s going to be included…she’s a part of the team.”

Smith’s start to her professional career didn’t go the way she had planned but Wade believes that is a product of how hard it is to make it in the WNBA. He pointed out how there are teams who have multiple first round picks in a given year but don’t have enough minutes to allocate towards their development. Smith, who is 26 years old, started her career on a Phoenix team that had an urgency to compete for a championship. The Sky are betting that, after a few years of refining who she is as a player, 2023 will be her breakout year.

“Sometimes [young players] need time to adapt and sometimes the poor years after college are the ones that are the most important,” Wade said of Smith. “You’ve seen that with the players we have. When you talk about Rebekah and how it took her 10 years [to make it to the WNBA], she was probably ready four years before that but didn’t get an opportunity.

“Alanna is going to get an opportunity and we feel like she’s going to be good for us.”

Dana Evans to have expanded role in 2023

Evans told The Next last December she is ready to take the next step in her career. According to Wade, she is going to get that opportunity in 2023.

Evans has made enormous strides as a combo guard while playing with Besiktas in Turkey. She’s averaging 23.8 points and 5.8 assists in overseas play and her instincts of knowing when to get her teammates involved versus knowing when to take over as a scorer has impressed Wade.

The glimpses the team has seen from Evans as someone who can spark an offense in the WNBA have culminated in her carving out a bigger role with the team next season.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wade said when asked if Evans will have an expanded role in 2023. “She is going to have every opportunity to play and make an imprint on what we’re trying to accomplish. I think she’s going to be good at the guard spot and I’m excited to see her growth in our offense. It’s going to be a great opportunity for her.”

Li Yueru‘s status up in the air

While Chicago bolstered its front court depth in free agency, the Sky are figuring out what to do with soon to be second-year center Li Yueru. Wade has spoken with her agent as recently as two days ago and said the discussions around her availability for next year are “fluid.”

Ahead of the first round of the playoffs last season, Li was pulled from the Sky by the Chinese National Team so she could prepare for 2022 World Cup. Wade told The Next at the time Chicago did not receive any indication Li wouldn’t be available for the WNBA postseason upon her arrival with the Sky.

“She wants to be back in the WNBA,” Wade said, “and she’s on our roster so I wouldn’t imagine her wanting to be anywhere else. I think the thing is with so much uncertainty with the Asian Games and all these things, I don’t want to be in a situation where we have a player that’s here and they leave. I want to be able to build from April until the end of the season with the same group.”

According to Her Hoops Stats, Li is in the second year of her unprotected rookie deal. Her $62,285 salary will count towards the salary cap if she is on the roster on opening night.

Wade’s scouting report on Robyn Parks, Feyonda Fitzgerald

Chicago announced on Feb. 5 Robyn Parks and Feyonda Fitzgerald will be with the Sky in training camp this spring (note: both are not listed on the WNBA’s official transaction page). Parks has played with multiple teams overseas since going undrafted out of Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014. Fitzgerald was selected in the second round by the Indiana Fever in 2017 and is currently playing for Antalya 07 in Turkey.

Here’s what Wade had to say about them ahead of training camp.

Wade on Parks: “Robyn Parks is a really good player in Italy—very offensive minded. She has a great midrange shot, can make catch-and-shoot threes and can create her own shot off the dribble which is something that’s really nice. She’s really good at creating her own shot so I want to see how good she can create her own shot at this level. She’s a good teammate and I think that’s something that is really important.”

Wade on Fitzgerald: “With Feyonda, it’s a little bit different. She’s an aggressive point guard and it’s a little bit like Dana [Evans]. She’s played against Dana a couple of times this year. It’s really nice because you have two point guards that are really aggressive and like to score the ball. We felt like [Parks and Fitzgerald] will give us an added dimension in training camp.”

Written by James Kay

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