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The Sky hired Teresa Weatherspoon in October as the team’s seventh coach and the first not put in the dual role of coach and general manager.

The Sky hired Teresa Weatherspoon in October as the team’s seventh coach and the first not put in the dual role of coach and general manager.

Anthony Vazquez

Chicago Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon is always a player at heart

The court at Wintrust Arena was dark Wednesday — the lighting purposefully dimmed, save for a few spotlights and the lowered scoreboard displaying “Chicago Sky,” which illuminated players on an elevated stage as fog surrounded them.

It was Sky media day, and the retooled roster, aside from three contributing players last year, arrived ready to show who they are. New coach Teresa Weatherspoon was doing the same.

“That’s fire, Marina!” Weatherspoon yelled to guard Marina Mabrey as she took her turn on stage. “That’s fire!”

In the seven months since Weatherspoon became the Sky’s seventh coach (and the first not in the dual role of coach and general manager) she has been just about everywhere, spending time touring Chicago, making stops at the Team USA camp in February and prioritizing individual time with her players even as they were playing overseas. Her style is encouraging players to be themselves.

“She has a really good balance of being a player’s coach, giving you confidence but then also setting a standard and what she expects from you,” Mabrey said. “She makes it easy to show up and do your job because she’s going to put you in good positions and she’s going to bring that energy. Really, you just have to match it.”

Weatherspoon has a player’s pedigree. A five-time All-Star, she spent seven of her eight WNBA seasons with the Liberty from 1997 to 2003, reaching four WNBA Finals and winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in the WNBA’s first two seasons. She also led the WNBA in assists during the league’s inaugural season.

Nearly 10 years separated her college career at Louisiana Tech and her WNBA debut. In 1988, she led the Lady Techsters to their second NCAA title. Five months later, she helped the U.S. Women’s National Team win its second gold medal in the Seoul Olympics. A WNBA title is the only championship that has eluded her.

Players today see her as a fiery, committed competitor with unlimited energy — the same drive she had as a player.

Case in point: On Tuesday, the Sky held a big lead over the Liberty in their final preseason game when Mabrey went up for a three-pointer in transition. As the ball dropped through the net, increasing the lead to 29, Weatherspoon leaped into the air with her fist raised, punching the sky.

What should you expect from a Weatherspoon-led team?

“[The Sky] are going to play with a lot of passion,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “She did that as a player of the Liberty. That’s what she’s known for.”

Brondello and Weatherspoon spent years as WNBA opponents. They would have met on the 1988 Olympic stage, too, had Brondello’s Australia team not narrowly lost to Yugoslavia in the semifinals.

“I’m excited for her,” Brondello said. “It’s great she’s back in the WNBA. Obviously, her team, there’s been a lot of movement for her. But I know one thing for sure: She’ll have them competing.”

Former Sky wing Kahleah Copper wanted Weatherspoon in Chicago. When she was introduced in October, Copper sat beside her as the two discussed a new era of Sky basketball. Four months later, Copper was on her way to the Mercury after requesting a trade. General manager Jeff Pagliocca got a significant return: forwards Michaela Onyenwere and Brianna Turner and the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, which was used to select center Kamilla Cardoso.

After the trade, Weatherspoon said her philosophies don’t change based on who’s on her roster. And she refused to use the word “rebuild.” But the reality is, the Sky are climbing back from their fall from championship contention. Multiple preseason power rankings have them between 11th place and dead last.

That’s for good reason. Most of the team and Weatherspoon are unknown commodities. Mabrey, guard Dana Evans and forward/center Elizabeth Williams are the only returning contributors from last season, when the Sky finished eighth. (Forward Isabelle Harrison is back, too, after being out the entire season with a knee injury.)

Filling out the team this year are guards Diamond DeShields and Chennedy Carter — both of whom didn’t play in the WNBA last season — and role players such as forward Brianna Turner and guard Lindsay Allen. But Weatherspoon sees a group that can punch first.

Her relationship with Evans might have the potential to generate the most success.

“Dana can do whatever Dana wants to do,” Weatherspoon said. “One thing she understands is [that] as a playmaker, she has to facilitate first, conduct the show first and then inject yourself.”

In just a few short weeks, Evans has already shown an ability to embody Weatherspoon’s style on the court. It helps that she’s similar to Weatherspoon the player. But what Evans hasn’t had yet is a real opportunity to lead the offense as point guard. In her first two seasons, she played limited minutes with veteran Courtney Vandersloot on the roster. Last season, she again mostly came off off the bench after former coach/GM James Wade signed free-agent guard Courtney Williams to run point.

“I’ve been talking a lot about [Weatherspoon’s] energy, and how she just breeds confidence in each and every one of her players,” Evans said. “She pays attention to the details. It’s exciting and makes us really want to play hard for her.”

There’s a lot riding on the Sky being successful this season — or at the very least reaching the playoffs. The Wings have the right to swap first-round picks with the Sky in the 2025 draft. If the Sky don’t make the postseason, they’ll be sending a lottery pick to Dallas. The strength of the 2024 class — the result of players opting not to use their fifth year of college eligibility — likely won’t be matched in 2025. Still, parting with a lottery pick is not a recipe for success.

A look at the teams who failed to make the playoffs last year paints an even more startling picture for the Sky. All four teams — the Fever, Sparks, Storm and Mercury — got better on paper.

Next Wednesday, the Sky will have their first opportunity to prove their own on-paper evaluation wrong in their season opener against the Wings. And Weatherspoon will have her first opportunity to prove her Hall of Fame playing career can translate to the sideline.

“There’s a great deal of confidence that you have to play with,” Weatherspoon said. That’s where I stand as a head coach. I empower them to carry themselves in a life of confidence, knowing who they are and [that they’re] going to get the job done. It’s a big piece that you have to have as a head coach.”

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