The Sky's Sylvia Fowles (left) and Elena Delle Donne are two big reasons… (Getty Images )
The long wait is over for the Sky and their fans.
In the WNBA franchise's eight-year history, the team has never had a winning season, much less made the playoffs. Until now.
OK, so it's not a Cubs-in-the-World-Series-type drought, but the Sky are going where they haven't gone before. They earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which comes with high expectations.
"We're doing something special here," said guard Allie Quigley, a Joliet native and DePaul graduate. "We're accepting this challenge and we're ready for it."
Led by a mix of veterans and young players, the Sky have overcome years of losing seasons, coaching changes and a venue shift to finally be among the WNBA's elite.
The architect is coach Pokey Chatman. After years of success coaching at the college level and briefly in Russia, her patience has finally paid off.
"I've had some good pieces to work with," said the 44-year-old Chatman, the youngest head coach in the 12-team league. "[The players'] ability and their hunger have made my job a lot easier. As coaches we always have a plan, but we have to make sure those pieces fit. Those players trust that and they work hard for me."
It's no coincidence that the Sky's turnaround coincides with the arrival of MVP candidate Elena Delle Donne. Since being drafted No. 2 overall out of Delaware this spring, she's won all four Rookie of the Month awards while averaging 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.8 assists per game.
"I've been blessed to play on good teams," Delle Donne said. "I'm just a competitor and I love playing this sport."
Of course if Delle Donne does win the MVP, she'll have to beat out teammate Sylvia Fowles. The sixth-year center leads the WNBA in rebounding (11.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (58.6), and is 10th in scoring (16.3) and second in overall blocks (78).
"It's been a struggle for the past few years, but to finally have the pieces that we need makes it a lot better," Fowles said with a huge smile.
Waiting in the wings are the Sky's archrival, the Indiana Fever. Led by 12th-year forward Tamika Catchings, the Fever have given the Sky fits, taking three of the four matchups this season—the past three, in fact.
The best-of-three series begins Friday at Allstate Arena, with the Sky holding home-court advantage. They also have a chance to do something Chicago hasn't seen since the Michael Jordan era: win a pro basketball title.
"I'm just so excited for this team," said forward Swin Cash, who has three championship rings from other teams. "I'm very happy to be here and hopefully I can help this team do something they've never done."
Gabe Salgado is a RedEye special contributor.
Eastern Conference semifinals: Sky vs. Indiana
Game 1: at Sky, 6 p.m. Friday, NBA TV
Game 2: at Indiana, 2 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2
Game 3*: at Sky (time and channel TBA)
* If necessary
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