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Chicago Sky players voice confidence in new team identity under Teresa Weatherspoon: ‘She’s allowing us to be ourselves’

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There’s just one week until Teresa Weatherspoon makes her mark on the WNBA — for the second time in her Hall of Fame career.

The Chicago Sky’s new head coach will make her debut at the helm of a professional team next week with the Sky’s season opener against the Dallas Wings. It’s a fresh start for the Sky and for Weatherspoon, offering excitement and uncertainty for fans after a rocky 2023 season.

Throughout media day on Wednesday, her players reiterated the same sentiment: In Weatherspoon, the Sky have found a coach who only needed a few weeks of preseason to earn buy-in across her roster.

“She really gets to know each and every one of us so she knows how to coach us,” guard Dana Evans said. “That’s something that I really like because I don’t think you can coach everyone the same. Everybody’s different. She just genuinely cares about you so we’re just gonna go hard for her because we want this to be a great first year for her.”

This will be a transitional season for the Sky — and Weatherspoon has embraced that fact since she took the job last fall.

This is the first year the team’s head coach is not also the general manager. New GM Jeff Pagliocca was hired in October just a few weeks after Weatherspoon. It’s also a season of new beginnings after the team traded star Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury to acquire significant draft stock, which paid off with the selection of Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese.

Weatherspoon will be tasked with forging a new identity for the Sky while also jelling a team packed with young players.

“We’re just trying to play together,” Weatherspoon said. “We’re just trying to play the game the right way — share the ball, play with each other, play for each other and have fun doing it. Of course we want to be great on the defensive side of the ball and we want to execute on the offensive side of the ball, but we want to have fun doing it by playing together.”

Chicago Sky Head Coach Teresa Weatherspoon laughs with forward Michaela Onyenwere on May 8, 2024, during media day at Wintrust Arena. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon laughs with forward Michaela Onyenwere on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, during media day at Wintrust Arena. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)

Weatherspoon’s strength as a coach lies in player development, which was the focus of her prior role as an NBA assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans. Ahead of Tuesday’s preseason game, she spent warmups issuing directives and adjustments to veterans and rookies alike, guiding frontcourt players Isabelle Harrison, Angel Reese and Elizabeth Williams through their midrange jump shots while offering critiques.

Preseason photos: Chicago Sky 101, New York Liberty 53

This ability to embrace and uplift the individuality of each player is a key for Weatherspoon as a coach, both in Chicago and in the WNBA at large.

“She knows that we all have a story and she wants us to tell it,” guard Chennedy Carter said. “She’s allowing us to be ourselves and be true to who we are and I appreciate that.”

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding her arrival in Chicago, it’s not always easy to pry open Weatherspoon’s game plan for her inaugural season as a head coach. She preferred not to offer details when describing her assessment of preseason scrimmages and practices and gave consistent responses for her rotational plans — everything will be clear once the Sky begin to play games.

But Sky players have made clear the central tenet of Weatherspoon’s identity: defense.

Weatherspoon ends every film session with a defensive study and emphasized defensive rotations heavily throughout preseason practices. In a preseason win over the New York Liberty, Sky defenders swarmed opponents at the perimeter while Angel Reese and Elizabeth Williams anchored a dominant defense on the low blocks. And that’s a fundamental value the Sky hope to maintain throughout the regular season.

“She doesn’t just talk about it because it sounds good,” forward Isabelle Harrison said. “She’s actually really serious about it. We’re all talented. We can all score, we can all do those things. But everybody can’t play defense like that. And she puts that faith in you.”

Building this defensive cornerstone is a crucial first step as the Sky aim to disprove predictions for their standing in the league this season.

But with Weatherspoon at the helm, players are confident in their ability to establish a clear team identity early in this season.

“I want our identity to be someone to look out for,” forward Brianna Turner said. “I think coming into the preseason a lot of people have really low expectations of us but I think we’re ready to shock the world.”

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Julia Poe , 2024-05-09 03:26:48

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