They got hot last season at just the right timeduring the playoffleading to shocking series victories over the top-seeded Atlanta Dream and then the Indiana Fever. But the fire burning for the 2014 Chicago Sky was quickly extinguishingin a dominant, best-of-five series sweep of the WNBA Finals by the Phoenix Mercury.
The ouster is motivation for 2015, as the Sky preps for its 10th season. Practices started May 17; the team's annual media day was May 18; their preseason opener is May 22 against the New York Liberty; and the 34-game regular-season kicks off June 5 with the home opener against Indiana. The Sky then play their next five games on the road before Atlanta comes to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont on June 24. The team's annual Pride Night is June 30 against New York.
Yes, the 2014 Finals "is extremely motivating," said Sky standout Elena Delle Donne, a two-time WNBA All-Star who was impacted last season by injuries, but told the media that she's healthy, ready for a full season in 2015.
"To get to the Finals and then find out that we weren't as good as the other team, it makes you want to work that much harder in the off-season. I'm very excited in what I've seen so farthe talent and skill-level that all of these players have is really impressive and I haven't seen this before."
Delle Donne certainly will be needed even more this season as the Sky moves forward without superstar Sylvia Fowles, an All-Star center. She was a no-show at media day and has requested a trade.
"We still think Sylvia is a great player; would love to have her here. But when things come up, you're dealt a certain hand you have to deal with it and keep it moving. That's what we've tried to do and I think we've done it. The focus is on the players that are here," Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman said.
One of those players in-uniform now for the Sky is Cappie Pondexter, a Chicago native who attended Rutgers University, won a gold medal for the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is a two-time WNBA champion and six-time WNBA All-Star.
"Bringing in Cappie is great; she is an experienced veteran, something really special to have," said Delle Donne. "From day one, she's already made an impact, and I think that's going to be crucial, getting us to that next step."
The 2015 Sky roster also features Allie Quigley, who played at DePaul and is in her seventh WNBA season; Courtney Vandersloot, a guard in her fifth season; and Tamera Young, a forward in her eighth season.
"I am very excited," for the season to start, Vandersloot said. "I think we were disappointed," at the finish to the 2014 season. "We had such a high road at the end of the season. We were peaking at such a good point.
"I think we got a little taste of the successand that's something to learn from."
The team welcomed Cheyenne Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward from Middle Tennessee Statethe Sky's first-round pick and the fifth overall.
"I am really looking forward to the season. I know I'm a rookie, but I have a lot to offer," said Parker, admittedly known for her "dominant post presence."
"I'm definitely known for being a shot-blocker. I'm definitely known for my defense," Parker added.
Chatman said the 2014 WNBA Finals are "motivation, momentum and excitement" for the 2015 team.
"We're definitely excited to get to that next level," she added.
Pondexter, who attended John Marshall High School, was the second overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft. Her career has been split between the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty, plus extensive overseas experience. She was once voted by the fans as one of the top 15 players in WNBA history.
The Sky acquired Pondexter in a trade with New York for Epiphanny Prince.
Pondexter has averaged 18.5 points per career in her nine WNBA season, and she has started all 295 regular-season games that she has played. Pondexter also has appeared in 30 playoff games and averaged 21.1 points in those games.
"She brings years [of experience], but also, she brings championship medals," Chatman said. "She's played with all of the [great] players, and I think that helps tremendously."
"I'm excited; it feels amazing," to join the Sky, Poindexter said. "I think we can be great. Sure, that's easier said than done, but I think if we challenge ourselves each and every practice, the games will come naturally."