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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Courtney Vandersloot keeps sunny disposition in downtime from Chicago Sky

By Dave Trimmer For The Spokesman-Review

In these uncertain times, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to visit a classic after checking in with former Gonzaga basketball star Courtney Vandersloot.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”

You can take the opening sentence of the 1859 Charles Dickens novel “A Tale of Two Cities” out as far as you want and it seems to capture Vandersloot’s situation in the age of COVID-19.

At the moment, the WNBA All-Star is home in Chicago chilling with her wife and Sky teammate Allie Quigley, having just returned from Russia after their season ended prematurely.

“It’s probably very similar to out there,” Vandersloot said. “Hanging out. We don’t go anywhere.”

So about those best of times?

Prior to the abrupt end to the basketball season, Vandersloot and Quigley’s team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, was leading the Euroleague with a 13-1 record and was 20-0 in the Russian domestic league. Since the shutdown, Vandersloot was named Russian guard of the year and teammate Brittney Griner the MVP, both selected first-team all-stars. Vandersloot led both leagues in assists.

Chicago Sky coach James Wade was scouting for UMMC Ekaterinburg, which was a bonus.

“We spent a lot of time reminiscing, talking about the future, what we need, what we don’t need, what we’re going to do, looking forward to it,” Vandersloot said. “It was one of the things that keeps you going when you’re missing home a little bit.”

Then coronavirus brought the bad times.

First the Euroleague was affected because of Italy. When the virus hit the states, it landed in the Seattle area, Vandersloot’s home.

“I wanted to be home, but was it the right time?” Vandersloot asked. “There were only a few cases in Russia, but do I want to go home and expose myself to this? There was so much unknown.”

Canceled seasons were like dominoes. Once Russia closed the gyms, Vandersloot and Quigley bolted.

They left March 19 and had no travel issues, especially since they didn’t go through Europe. They went straight home and sat tight for 14 days, during which the WNBA postponed the start of its summer season.

Last summer, the Sky ended a playoff drought and Vandersloot pushed her WNBA record for assists in a season to 300 (9.1 per game), moving her into sixth on the career list with 1,685. But a buzzer-beating, 3-point shot in an elimination game against the Las Vegas Aces has left a sour taste.

“We were really looking forward to the season because we had a disappointing exit, but we’re bringing back almost the entire team and that’s really special,” Vandersloot said. “It’s hard to keep a team together for years, especially with the new CBA and everything with the money situation, you just never know. We felt like we had a good roster, a good chance, and we were just going to continue to build off what we did last year.”

As with every athlete and every citizen, health and safety are more important than wins and losses when life is on the line. In that, there is good news.

Vandersloot’s family is fine in Kent, Washington, and Quigley’s family is nearby and can now visit. Plus, the weather is nice enough to go outside to the backyard basket.

“It’s really nice to be able to work out together and try our best to stay in some kind of shape,” Vandersloot said. “Playing outside, I feel like it’s going back to our roots. Both of us grew up playing outside. We just got back in from playing H-O-R-S-E. We’re trying to keep busy.

“It’s also nice, too, because we never really have any downtime. We very rarely have weeks on end without at least traveling somewhere. Being able to be in one spot is really something we have cherished, because we don’t get that a lot. Since we play overseas, we get burnt out, so it could be a blessing in disguise. Obviously it’s not easy. But whenever our time comes, we’ll be ready.”

Chicago Sky's Allie Quigley, of Team Wilson, left, embraces Chicago Sky's Courtney Vandersloot, of Team Delle Donne, during the second half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / AP)
Chicago Sky’s Allie Quigley, of Team Wilson, left, embraces Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot, of Team Delle Donne, during the second half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / AP)