SEATTLE – There were a couple of minutes left in the first half when Courtney Vandersloot gathered in a long outlet pass and took off for the opposite end of the court at KeyArena. But as she neared the 3-point line Seattle Storm star Sue Bird swooped in and stole the ball, setting up a Swin Cash basket on the other end.
Chicago quickly called a timeout and as the Sky players went to the bench, coach Pokey Chatman put her arm around Vandersloot and quietly spoke in her ear.
It was the last game of the former Gonzaga star’s rookie season in the WNBA and the lessons continued to the end. And it actually looked familiar. Vandersloot had many such moments with Kelly Graves, who was sitting in the front row at center court with the governor and Storm owner, as she made NCAA history while taking Gonzaga to unprecedented success.
There have been plenty of teaching moments for Chatman as the Sky finished the season Sunday evening with an 81-70 loss in front of 13,659 fans and a 14-20 record and still haven’t made the playoffs after six years in the WNBA.
Chatman met Vandersloot with a smile and a comment that brought a smile to start a timeout midway through the third quarter, a sign that these two expect better days ahead when Vandersloot returns next summer from playing in Turkey for her second season.
“I don’t remember what she said, but I remember it being encouraging,” Vandersloot of those two moments. “She’s one of those coaches that knows what to say to her players. Sometimes I get so caught up, a little bit tense, she knows how to calm me down.”
For Vandersloot’s hometown fans – the whole Gonzaga women’s basketball team and coaches made the trip, her appearance prompted a GU Alumni Association event and the City of Kent, where she played high school ball, brought a group – it was a dose of reality about life in the WNBA.
Vandersloot didn’t start, though she did for much of the season. And though she got a warm welcome with each appearance, she finished with five points on 2 of 9 shooting, with two assists and four turnovers.
“A little bit different emotion,” she allowed. “Not only because it was the last game but because it was at home in front of everyone. But it still sucks to lose. I could have done some things different, that’s for sure.”
The Sky finished with three more losses this season than Gonzaga had the past three years.
“Bottom line is it’s a loss,” Chatman said. “We have a lot of work to do in the offseason.”
That includes Vandersloot.
“The skill set is there at a premium position,” Chatman said. “The problem is you don’t get a lot of time to grow up. … I think early on she handled it well. Everybody talks about a ‘rookie wall’ and it’s real. Sometimes it’s its not physical. … She’s going to have to become a basketball junkie, at a different level you can’t imagine.”