Kahleah Copper has heard a rumor that her Chicago Sky is toast.
Candace Parker left for the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces. Courtney Vandersloot went to the New York Liberty and joined Breanna Stewart on the fledgling Eastern Conference superteam. Azurá Stevens went to Los Angeles. Allie Quigley, Vandersloot’s wife, is taking this year off, though the 36-year-old insists she won’t be retiring.
Two seasons after Sky won a captivating championship, Copper’s team is in the midst of a takedown. But the North Philly native has a message for anyone who wants to write off Chicago.
“Every year, I think the media and everyone who doesn’t play basketball on Twitter, everyone has something to say, you know?” he said Monday at a news conference from a US national team training camp in Minneapolis. “And they never believe in you until you win.”
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That’s not to say the review was easy to process.
“It’s definitely been tough,” he said. “Lots of emotions. It was kind of a whirlwind. But recovering.
Chicago has begun its rebuild with a trio of veteran signings: forwards Isabelle Harrison (Dallas Wings) and Elizabeth Williams (Washington Mystics), guard Feyonda Fitzgerald (longtime Temple alumnus in Europe) and guard Courtney Williams (Connecticut Sun ).
The Sky signed former shooting guard Fitzgerald, as well as former Virginia Commonwealth forward Robyn Parks, to training camp contracts. Both have spent most of their professional careers in Europe.
Courtney Williams is the top addition so far, both by pedigree and positional necessity. She helped the Sun reach the 2019 and 2022 Finals, and was an All-Star in 2021. She should go straight into the starting lineup as Vandersloot’s successor.
Copper is happy to have Williams, especially from the personal experience of playing against her. She recalled a fight in the playoffs last season where the two women went for the ball, grabbed it, and simply refused to let go until Williams was standing over a seated Copper with the Chicago crowd roaring.
“She’s just going to bring that competitiveness,” Copper said. “That’s the kind of person I want to go to war with.”
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Chicago’s new veterans are slightly older than Copper, but the 28-year-old is now the longest-tenured player on the Sky. She is hugging him.
Have you talked to James? [Wade, Chicago’s coach]? In fact, I’m the assistant general manager,” Copper joked. “I feel like people say it’s a new era, whatever you want to call it. I’m ready to compete and really take this leadership to another level. … It’s time, and I’m ready.”
However, there is no mistaking the scale of the challenge. Copper was preceded on stage by her friend Betnijah Laney, whose New York Liberty may not only have the greatest team of all time, but one of the best in league history. She counted the starters from one to five: Vandersloot, Sabrina Ionescu, Stewart, Laney and Jonquel Jones. Her combined résumés include three WNBA titles, two MVP awards, seven first-team WNBA placements and 14 All-Star selections.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m excited,” Laney said. “I think we’ve had some really great pickups, and I can’t wait for the ‘W’ season to start.”
Would you call it a super-team?
“I mean, we have some super players, so…” he said with an appropriately dramatic pause. “I’d say that’s fair, if you ask me.”
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As a wise leader should, Copper preached patience.
“We’re just going to wait for the season,” he said, and there’s a lot to do before the mid-May start. USA Basketball called 15 of its best players to Minneapolis this week for training camp, with South Jersey-born head coach Cheryl Reeve preparing for next year’s Olympics. When it’s done, Copper is going to the Super Bowl.
There’s no need to guess which team you’re rooting for.
“They fly, eagles fly,” he sang. “Yeah, that’s what’s happening.”
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