Take a deep breath and get ready for a dizzying recap.
It was only 12 months ago that Courtney Vandersloot was enjoying the idyllic life of a college senior, savoring the sun on a cross-campus walk as her final year at Gonzaga got under way.
Since then she has made NCAA history (first player with 2,000 career points and 1,000 career assists), led the Bulldogs to their first Elite Eight, was honored as Gonzaga’s first first-team All-American at the Final Four, drafted third overall by the Chicago Sky of the WNBA, selected for the national team roster and made the WNBA All-Star game.
“It’s all been such a whirlwind,” Vandersloot admitted. “It’s been a lot, but I can say it’s a year I’ll always remember. I’ve learned so much and had so much fun, but it was just so much squashed into one year.”
It won’t slow down, either, after the Sky finish the regular season this evening with a Vandersloot homecoming in Seatttle (6 p.m. tipoff at Key Arena), even though Chicago came up short of its first playoff berth.
In a couple of weeks Vandersloot takes off for Istanbul, Turkey, where she’ll join WNBA rookies Amber Harris (Xavier) and Jantel Lavender (Ohio State) for their first season as overseas professionals.
“I’m nervous … I thought Chicago was far away,” the Kent, Wash., native said. “But I’m actually really excited. I’m lucky I have so many resources, everybody plays overseas. … I feel well-prepared.”
If it all sounds exhausting, well, it is, more mentally than physically, when you consider just how good the WNBA is.
“Literally it’s the best of the best,” Vandersloot said. “The best players in the world are playing in this league. It’s every single night, every single player. There’s not a player on a team that’s a fluke. There are plenty of players out there that deserve to be here but with the tightness of the league, it’s not allowed, so it’s really the cream of the crop. Every single night you’re going to get their best.”
Vandersloot was starting by her second game, though she is coming off the bench recently. She had seven assists in her debut and 18 points in her first home game. She had a 10-assist game on her way to breaking the six-year old franchise’s record when she picked up her 124th with two in a loss to Los Angles on Saturday.
She is averaging 6.7 points, 3.8 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 2.7 turnovers in 24 minutes a game.
“That’s the hardest part about this, the biggest adjustment for me, the mental part,” Vandersloot said. “It’s important to stay in your best shape mentally. If you don’t, you’re just going to be toast. That’s what this league does, it plays with your confidence a little bit.
“The most successful players in this league are the most confident ones. They have confidence in themselves, their team, their coaches, everything. That’s what you have to do but it’s also a learning experience. You’re not going to know that right away, you have to develop it.”
That includes fighting through the fatigue.
“That kind of surprised me more,” she said. “I heard there was a rookie wall but I never really expected that to happen to me. It’s been tough. I’ve been struggling a little bit. You have to keep working. People go through that all the time. Even in college, I went through it there, too. It’s something I have to work out and stay confident.”
Yes, confidence is a fragile thing.
“I won’t lie, there have been times I lost all confidence,” Vandersloot said. “But I’m lucky enough to have a very understand- ing team that always has my back, the same with my coaching staff.
“Pokey Chatman (head coach and general manager) really looks after me. I feel I wouldn’t be as successful playing with a different organization. I’m still confident, still playing … still working on it.”
Vandersloot loves Chicago, spending as much time as possible on the beaches of Lake Michigan. She has had numerous visitors, which affords her the opportunity of learning the city with them.
Now her first season is coming to an end with her first “home” game, against a hot team that happens to be the defending WNBA champion with Vander- sloot’s idol, Sue Bird, her opposing point guard.
“I’m not nervous,” Vandersloot said. “It will be my last game of the regular season. At this point I shouldn’t get nervous. I’m really excited, very excited to see everybody, see the Gonzaga fans.”
A perfect way to bring down the curtain on an amazing year.
“It’s been everything I expected,” Vandersloot said. “It’s such a learning experience. As a team and individually we’ve had our ups and downs. The league tests you on and off the court. It tests your character, your patience, your confidence, everything. I feel like I’m in a great position. I try to keep learning, stay positive and enjoy every moment of it.”