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Former Gonzaga star Courtney Vandersloot, a four-time WNBA All-Star, says she won’t return to Chicago Sky in 2023

Feb. 1, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 1, 2023 at 9:46 a.m.

Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) drives toward the basket in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals against the Connecticut Sun on Aug. 31, 2022, at Wintrust Arena.  (Tribune News Service)
Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) drives toward the basket in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals against the Connecticut Sun on Aug. 31, 2022, at Wintrust Arena. (Tribune News Service)
By Julia Poe Chicago Tribune

For the first time in 13 years, the Chicago Sky will have to define themselves without Courtney Vandersloot.

The former Gonzaga standout, four-time All-Star and longtime Sky captain announced Tuesday evening that she won’t return to Chicago for the 2023 WNBA season. The free-agent signing period opens Wednesday.

The Sky already lost star center Candace Parker, who announced Saturday she will sign with the Las Vegas Aces. Replacing Vandersloot’s impact will be impossible for the Sky, who have been anchored around the point guard since drafting her out of Gonzaga with the No. 3 pick in 2011.

“Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided that it is time for me to pursue a new beginning,” Vandersloot wrote in a post on Instagram. “I will forever be grateful for the memories I have made during my time here. As I look ahead to a new chapter, with a new team, in a new city, know that Chicago and the Sky organization will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Over the last decade, Vandersloot boosted the Sky from bottom-rung outliers to consistent title contenders. On the court, she earned the nickname “Floor General” for her ability to marshal offensive plays and sling spot-on passes through heavy traffic. Off the court, Vandersloot solidified a winning culture for the Sky alongside her wife and co-captain, Allie Quigley.

With Vandersloot and Quigley at the helm, the Sky attracted top talent such as Parker and nurtured up-and-coming stars such as Kahleah Copper to accomplish their ultimate goal — winning the WNBA title in 2021 and redefining Sky basketball in the process.

“Sloot is Chicago,” Parker said after Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals last year. “This is her franchise. I came here to play with her.”

Vandersloot forged a legacy as the league’s greatest ball distributor. She led the league in assists for six of her 12 seasons in Chicago. In 2020 she broke Ticha Penicheiro’s single-game assist record with 18 en route to setting another league record with 10 assists per game.

Vandersloot’s court sense appeared almost preternatural, flinging full-court bombs and scooping no-look passes past unsuspecting opponents. Her greatest strength was her ability to stoke the talents of her teammates, elevating the Sky offense to a new echelon. Under her steady hand, the Sky followed their 2021 WNBA title with a franchise-best 26 regular-season wins in 2022.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you.”

There’s no like-for-like match for Vandersloot in the WNBA — and as true point guards continue to dwindle in the modern game, the Sky are unlikely to find a replacement.

Vandersloot’s free agency has been heavily tied to Breanna Stewart, who announced Wednesday she was leaving the Seattle Storm for the New York Liberty. While Stewart and Vandersloot never have played on the same WNBA team, they are well-suited to one another after several years as teammates abroad. They currently play together for Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Super League and previously teamed up to win a EuroLeague championship with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia.

Vandersloot’s departure places a brighter spotlight on the impending decision for Quigley, who appears to be drawing close to retirement after opting not to play in Europe during the most recent offseason for the first time in 15 years.

Quigley hasn’t been tied to any trade rumors this offseason. She hasn’t played on a WNBA team without Vandersloot since they met as teammates in 2013. If Quigley joins her wife — or announces her retirement — the Sky will enter the 2023 season without the entirety of their veteran core.

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