The new era of Sky basketball has officially arrived with the start of Sunday's training camp.
The only reminder from the recent Sky championships was the presence of 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahlaah Copper, Dana Evans, Ruthy Hebard and coach/general manager James Wade, along with a banner at their training gym in Deerfield.
“I like the energy we have,” Wade said. “I like the personalities we have and the fact that they have to know me and I have to know them. There's a certain intimacy that comes with getting your team and group to know each other.”
On his first day with the new group, Wade says he put his teaching degree to good use, imparting a lot of new information about how he expects the team to play.
During the 30 minutes of practice that was visible to the media, Wade had the first unit consisting of Evans, Courtney Williams, Copper, Isabelle Harrison, and Alanna Smith run together.
Copper has spoken about how he plans to embrace his new role as veteran leader of Sky, and that approach was evident on Sunday. He drilled players and pulled them aside to communicate directly about what he saw – or wanted to see – from them. In one instance, Copper stopped to talk to Evans in center court before returning to play.
”Definitely me,” said Copper. ”I'm not looking for other people to (lead). At that point in training, we were tired. Dana forgot she had a big role this year. You can't have an accident with two minutes left in practice. It's like two minutes left in the game, three down, we couldn't turn the ball over. You have to set us up as point guards.”
Copper said he admired the path Evans took because it reminded him of his own. After being traded to Sky in 2017, Copper bided his time playing behind All-Stars like Diamond DeShields and Allie Quigley. In 2020, he got his first real chance to prove his worth with more minutes and never looked back.
“I don't have me or anyone going through a similar process,” Copper said. “I know what it took for him to achieve that fame. I want to be able to be in his corner and help him navigate through it. From a role coming off the bench, not playing much, to having freedom and confidence in that.”
It's too early to say exactly how much Sky's playstyle will change with this new roster, especially considering that not everyone's in the camp yet. Marina Mabrey is expected to arrive in the coming days, and while Wade says Li Yueru is in town, he didn't clarify what availability would be like this season.
“He's here,” Wade said. ”That's about as much as I can tell you. He's been here since (25 April), so now we're just trying to take care of him physically so we can make sure he can play.”
The Sky's newest addition is Hebard's first child, Xzavier, who arrives on day one. Hebard has been working one-on-one with longtime strength=and conditioning coach Ann Crosby since giving birth. He didn't have a set date for his return, but he said, “Hopefully soon.”