Every Cloud Has a Sylvia Lining
She may not get the spotlight like many of the league's other superstars garner, but Chicago's Sylvia Fowles has quietly become one of the league's most dominant players on both ends of the floor this season.
"She's the cleanup woman," Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. "I mean, she's shooting almost 60 percent from the field, she's leading the league in rebounding, she's blocking shots and she can score. As a coach, she allows you to play her so many different ways and that is pretty darn valuable to me."
Fowles said her stride this season has been cathartic alongside the team's success this season. She's been on the team since 2008 and this year marks the first time the Sky have made the playoffs in the franchise's history - and they did it with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
"It's very humbling," she said. "It makes you apperciate all the struggles you've been through with this organization. It all has been working towards this moment."
Fowles has been a dominant player ever since she stepped into the league so her numbers should come as no surprise. But injuries in past seasons stunted her opportunities including last year when she missed 9 games as the Sky missed making the playoffs by one game. Chatman said Fowles' rejuvination this year began in the offseason. She played basketball in Turkey on the same team as established bigs like Atlanta Dream's Sancho Lyttle and Seattle Storm's Ann Wauters.
"What that translates into is she didn't have to play 35, 36, 37 or 38 minutes a game," Chatman said. "It allowed her to go in later, it allowed her to play in fewer minutes. She wanted to give herself an oppportunity to get better overseas, but it was an opportunity to stay fresh and prepare for what was to come."
In addition to staying healthy, Fowles' improvements this season have been complimented by the meteoric run of rookie teammate Elena Delle Donne. The two have been playing at MVP caliber levels all season long and Chatman said it's because of how well the duo play together.
"They're a perfect compliment to one another," Chatman said. "You look at the personalities of those two and they don't cancel each other out. When I hear talk about both of them having a chance at MVP, it makes me smile because they understand each other and respect how important one is to the other."
Fowles added having Delle Donne in addition to a prolific scorer in Epiphanny Prince on the team has helped cement her role for the team and hone in on what she does best.
"Rebounding and blocking shots has always been my bread and butter," Fowles said. "I'm pretty much the garbage woman. When you have an Elena Delle Donne and Epiphanny Prince, they can score anytime they touch the ball. I think my main thing is get some offense boards, rebounds and putbacks."
She added the team's solidified structure this season has helped create a tough-as-nails mentality going into the postseason.
"There's a different mindset (than previous years) among the 11 girls that we have here," she said. "We all want to go out and compete to the best of our ability. I think that's what's making the difference."
She added the team's goofy and outgoing chemistry off the court has made a difference this season as well. A big factor in that has been Fowles' presence, her coach said.
"You see that big body and that beastly game, but a lot of people don't know she's also one of the most endearing, kind, thoughtful and appreciative people out there," Chatman said.
On the surface, it appears Chicago would be heavy favorites in the first round as a No. 1 seed going against the No. 4 seeded Indiana Fever. But the Indiana Fever are the defending WNBA champions who can scrap with the league's best, including the Sky as they prepare for their first ever playoffs series.
"Yeah they're the fourth seed, but you can't write them off," Fowles said. "Indiana is going to come out and be very aggressive and very strong and we know what they're capable of. So we have to come out and be as aggressive too and step up our mental game."
The Fever are known for their tenacious defense, led by veteran superstar Tamika Catchings. But Indiana doesn't have a dominant center the way the Sky do. Considering the Fever beat the Sky, 3-1, in their regular series matchups, big games from Fowles could be the Sky's X-factor in winning the series.
Chatman said Fowles and the rest of the Chicago lineup will be ready.
"They're the team that beat us three times," Chatman said. "There's the motivation. Indiana is going to be physical. They're going to switch and they're going to trap. We've learned from that. If we continue to bring high level basketball both physically and mentally, then we should be ok."