Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now
Gonzaga Women's Basketball

‘I feel like I’m still in my prime’: Courtney Vandersloot enters 14th WNBA season with plenty to give

New York’s Courtney Vandersloot moves upcourt during Game 4 of the WNBA Finals on Oct. 18 in New York City.  (Sarah Stier)
By W.G. Ramirez The Spokesman-Review

Courtney Vandersloot may have turned 35 in February, but she’s certainly not acting like it.

Set for her 14th WNBA season, Vandersloot just enjoyed the first offseason she didn’t go overseas and said she’s done all the right things – mentally and physically – to prepare for her second season with the New York Liberty.

Vandersloot arrived in camp after a much more enjoyable offseason than her previous one, mainly because she knew where she’d be playing. In contrast, she didn’t sign with the Liberty until Feb. 2 last year, about three months shy of training camp.

With a better understanding of what New York coach Sandy Brondello needs from her, she knows exactly how her skill set fits alongside Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu and Jonquel Jones.

“I feel like I’m still in my prime on most days,” the former Gonzaga star said. “There’s some days that I do feel my age a little bit more. But when I’m out there, I’m still able to move the way that I want to. My body is still in good shape in terms of that.

“Of course, I know that I’m gonna run the point, but I need to be able to be efficient off the ball so Sabrina can be on the point sometimes. I think I have a much better understanding of that and just being able to be efficient when I’m not on the ball. That’s what kind of my mentality going into camp is just finding other ways to impact the game.”

An impact even more than she has during a rather decorated career.

“Sloot,” as she’s affectionately known, won the title with Chicago in 2021. She’s a five-time WNBA All-Star, twice has been named to the All-WNBA first team, has lead the league in assists seven times and was named to the all-rookie team in 2011.

She also second in WNBA career assists, 533 behind Sue Bird, and people have begun asking her if the record is on her mind.

“I try not to; if it happens, it happens,” she said. “But I get asked about it, so I do think about it. I’m gonna continue to try and just be me. And if it results in assists, it results in assists. I just want to really stay away from the, ‘Oh, I gotta break this record. I want to do this’ (narrative). I want to be able to impact the game. I want us to win games. I want to play my role the right way and do all those things. I’ve played for a long time and often times those result in assists. So, I’m just gonna let that kind of take care of itself, if you will, and just continue to play my game.”

The former three-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year spent her offseason in and out of New York, making public appearances for the Liberty, but more important, getting in critical runs on the court with whatever teammate was in the market at the time.

“That, and listening to my body,” said Vandersloot, who turned 35 in February. “I had to take time off. I’m grinding and working really hard and then something pops up in my body and I have to listen to it. That’s the hardest part about being this age. It’s not always pushing through, it’s not always just grinding. I have to let my body recover. So that’s a new phase for me. I’m definitely learning about that while also trying to stay in shape. I have to be able to be in game shape. So, there’s that balance.”

Camp Liberty

With a balanced of veterans and younger players, Brondello has mixed her rotations and thrown different lineups on the floor during training camp, ahead of the preseason opener in Chicago on Tuesday. By doing so, it’s allowed Brondello to put people in distinct positions, as Vandersloot mentioned, be it with Ionescu on the ball more, or using Stewart as a point forward.

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, left, celebrates a 3-pointer by Courtney Vandersloot, right, during overtime against the Washington Mystics in last year’s WNBA playoffs on Sept. 19 at the Barclays Center Brooklyn, N.Y.  (Getty Images)
New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, left, celebrates a 3-pointer by Courtney Vandersloot, right, during overtime against the Washington Mystics in last year’s WNBA playoffs on Sept. 19 at the Barclays Center Brooklyn, N.Y. (Getty Images)

“Just getting us more comfortable so we can kind of fill those different roles,” Vandersloot said. “But also, being leaders to the younger (or) new players, being able to kind of get them up to speed a little bit faster, because they’ll feed off what we do on the floor and what we’ve already built.

“It was important for us to keep our core together, which we did, and then just add a few pieces that we think can help us off the bench. We talked about how much our bench will help us this year with the season being as it is, the schedule being a little bit crazy. I think we added a few good pieces that will be really helpful for us off the bench.”

Her leadership and impact are certainly being felt, as rookie Jaylyn Sherrod called Vandersloot a poised spirit.

“I will also say she really controls the floor and just always seems two steps ahead of the defense, which as a point guard you want to do,” Sherrod said. “Just very, very calm (and) collected. Doesn’t really seem to ever get outside of herself and always thinking ahead about what she’s doing and how she can put her teammates in the best position.”

It’s an astute observation from a rookie who just two months ago was competing in the NCAA Tournament for Colorado, when you consider one of the league’s best had a similar sentiment during her Media Day availability with the Seattle Storm.

“Control, just control,” said Storm newcomer Skylar Diggins-Smith, who faced Vandersloot in the 2022 WNBA Finals. “Somebody that I really admire a lot, the way that she plays the game. … I always learn something about myself when I play against her on both sides of the ball. Or maybe she just exposes those things. She definitely is an all-time great in our league when it comes to point guards, and players in general.

“Just so unselfish, always trying to get others involved. I love the way that she can command her team. She can see things two or three steps ahead, her vision. But it’s really just her mindset. She has an incredibly high IQ, and you could hear it on the court, the way that she puts people in places, maneuvers and manipulates on offense and defense.

“It’s an honor competing against her.”

Mentally tough

Vandersloot said one of the biggest things she learned later in her career is to remain disciplined in disconnecting from the game she’s loved since writing a school paper in third grade that detailed her dreams of playing in the WNBA one day.

“Just being able to take a day to just do things that you enjoy, spend time with your family,” she said. “I lean on Allie, my wife, a lot. But to prepare for big games, I lean on the people that we’re in the trenches with. You have to. That’s why we’re here. We’ve been through a lot of things together and people in your circle, they’re part of this team, they believe in you. So, I make sure that I lean on them.

“I talk to a therapist once a week, just staying on top of it, staying in front of it, because you never know. We all have lives outside of this and you never know what people are going through. It’s not always just to come in here and it’s a sanctuary. We love to think that, but sometimes you bring things in with you and it’s heavy and it’s hard to perform at that level. So, making sure that you’re taking care of, ‘me first,’ that’s what it’s all about.”

It’s what it’ll take if Vandersloot is going to play in her third WNBA Finals in four years, and second straight with New York.

“That’s what I came here to do,” she said. “I wanted to be competing for a championship. I wanted to be in the finals year-in and year-out because there’s nothing better than that as a competitor. That’s always the goal. There’s a long process before that. Just making sure that we’re taking the right steps, we’re taking care of our bodies, me specifically because I am getting up there.”am getting up there. But with all that being said, I do feel like I still have a lot to give.”