Courtney Vandersloot is thriving with Chicago Sky
Former Gonzaga star found her comfort zone and has reaped the rewards in her third season in the WNBA.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Chicago @ Storm, 7 p.m., KONG
Surfing the web to improve your basketball skills has to be like reading books to lose weight. But there Courtney Vandersloot was in September, clicking link after link to find help.
Winning, success, the spotlight, it was all fading. Vandersloot was growing accustomed to losing, finishing her second WNBA season at 14-20 with the Chicago Sky. At Gonzaga, where she left as the first NCAA Division I player – man or woman – to amass more than 2,000 points and 1,000 assists, Vandersloot had only lost a combined 26 games in four years.
And she reached the NCAA Elite Eight as a senior. Established in 2006, the Sky is the sole franchise in the 12-team WNBA that still hasn’t made a postseason appearance.
Vandersloot isn’t naïve. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, she knew turning pro would be difficult. Being a lithe, 5-foot-8 point guard made it harder. But this?
“Since college ended, it was all a whirlwind,” said Vandersloot, who also plays overseas. “There was a point where I felt I had almost (hit a) plateau. I was inconsistent and it would benefit our team, if I could focus on me for a bit. Because the mental aspect of my game is not anywhere close to what I want it to be.”
Site found: ChrisHyppaBasketball.com.
Hyppa, a former Division II guard, is a gatekeeper of sorts. Keys to multiple gyms in Pierce County jingle from his key ring like a wind chime. He bounced Vandersloot between her family home in Covington and Tacoma to improve her game.
Correction. It had to be found first.
“We did a lot of skill-work, but the No. 1 thing I had to do with her is change her mindset and her whole approach,” said Hyppa of sessions varied from training in sand dunes to on-court work and talks three times a week. Vandersloot worked with the Sky’s staff to put on 18 pounds of muscle mass before leaving in February to play in Slovakia.
“I wanted her to adopt a more confident, mean, ‘I’m the best point guard here and I’m not going to back down from anybody’ approach,” Hyppa continued. “She kind of lost that. She lost some games and she lost her swag a little bit.”
The improvement is incremental on a stat sheet. A point here, an assist there, a boost in free-throw shooting percentage. Yet after Chicago defeated Western Conference-leading Minnesota 94-86 in overtime on Sunday, one text said it all.
“Sloot! Sloot! Sloot” Sky coach Pokey Chatman’s sister typed.
An ardent critic of point guards after following her sister’s storied career at LSU, Chatman’s sister knew Vandersloot’s play – including four drawn charges – was as key to the win as posts Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles combined 63 points.
“Most people don’t get that,” said Pokey Chatman of Vandersloot, who’s fifth in league in assists (5.0). “It may not make ‘SportsCenter’ highlights, but Slooty’s really starting to figure out pace, level and direction. And she’s not overwhelmed anymore.”
Thursday’s game against Seattle (10-12) will have a different feel than Vandersloot’s previous two matchups at KeyArena as a pro. In the past, the Sky (15-9) was already out of the playoff picture, but this time her team leads the Eastern Conference.
Delle Donne, the No. 2 overall draft pick who is fifth in the league in scoring (18.2 points per game), is questionable to play due to a left foot injury. But if you think that fazes Vandersloot, consider her team lost just 80-76 at Los Angeles on Tuesday with Delle Donne playing 11 minutes due to the injury. Vandersloot had 11 points and six assists.
In a league predicated by its point guards, Vandersloot knows time spent on herself can draw the things she’s used to and her team wants – success.
“I’m on the way,” Vandersloot said of her trajectory with Hyppa’s assistance. “At least I have the right mindset now to go forward.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.