Rookies give strong effort in Sky's season finale
Rookies were all over the floor Sunday night at Wintrust Arena.
Two of the youngest teams in the WNBA, the Chicago Sky and the Indiana Fever, closed out the WNBA regular season in a meaningless, yet not-so-meaningless game.
Neither the Sky or the Fever clinched a playoff spot, so the Fever's 97-92 win was rather token. But between the two teams, seven rookies got minutes, five got more than 20 minutes apiece and three started.
So for both the Sky and the Fever, this season finale in front of 7,118 fans, was as much about the future as the present, about planting seeds, so to speak.
"The fans had a great opportunity to get a small little taste of what the future of their franchise is going to look like, not just next year, but years down the line as these young players continue to develop," Sky coach Amber Stocks said. "The seeds are planted, and now we water them and watch them grow.
"The day you eat the fruit is not the day you plant the seed."
It's been a labor of nurturing those seeds this season for the Sky (13-21) and the Fever (6-28).
With youth often comes inconsistency and with inconsistency often comes losses. Both coaches knew that going into the 2018 season.
"These (young players) are learning under the lights," said Indiana coach Pokey Chatman, who coached the Chicago Sky for six seasons from 2011 to 2016. "This is a year that hasn't been good for rookies in terms of practice. You play 34 games in 94 days, you have to correct things under the lights. And it would be easy for them to lose confidence, but they just kept coming back for more and for more and I credit them for that and that's going to serve us beautifully in the next WNBA season."
Indiana was led in scoring by former Chicago Sky standouts Candice Dupree and Cappie Pondexter, both of whom had 22 points apiece. Rookie Kelsey Mitchell, the Fever's second-leading scorer on the season (12.7 ppg), added 14 points while fellow rookie Victoria Vivians added 6 points.
The Sky got a spectacular 27 points out of its top rookie, Diamond DeShields. DeShields showed her versatility in scoring from just about everywhere on the floor while staying efficient by hitting 10-of-17 shots.
DeShields was the Sky's second-leading scorer on the season, averaging 14 points per game.
The Sky also got double-figures from Cheyenne Parker (12 points) and Stefanie Dolson (11 points) and a smattering of points from the rest of its rookies: 9 from Gabby Williams, 8 from Alaina Coates and 6 from Linnae Harper, a Chicago native who is a rare third-round draft choice to earn a roster spot and make it to the end of the season.
"The biggest takeaway for me (on the season) is just to continue to be myself," DeShields said of the lessons from her rookie season. "Just always looking for opportunities to impact the game is what I need to focus on."
DeShields will return next season to a team that does include some veteran muscle in Allie Quigley, who won the 3-point shooting contest in July's All-Star Game for the second straight season, and point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who rewrote the WNBA's record books in assists this season.
Vandersloot recently broke an 18-year-old record for most assists in a season. In July, she also recorded the first triple-double in Sky history.
For Indiana, Dupree recently moved up to No. 8 on the WNBA's all-time scoring list.
So there were definitely highlights in this learning season for both teams.
But for now, Sky and Fever players can only watch from afar as the WNBA playoffs come up next. And they can hope that they gave their needs enough love and water this season.