An Early Season Q&A With Steven Key

After Tuesday night’s thrilling 78-75 victory over the Connecticut Sun, the Sky are off to a 3-1 start, the best in franchise history!

Sky Head Coach Steven Key recently sat down to discuss the team’s hot start! See what Coach feels the Sky’s early season strengths and weaknesses are as well as the development of rookies Kristi Toliver, Chen Nan, and much more!

What were your thoughts as your team began their 5-day, 3-game home-stand?

“We definitely wanted to emphasize at the beginning of the season that winning at home was very important. We want to create an atmosphere here that opponents, when they look at the schedule, will know that Chicago is a tough team to play there and the crowd will be into it. We wanted to make sure we play our best basketball for the most important people—our fans.”

What did your team do well during those three wins?

“I think our versatility really shined. We got great contributions from our bench on offense in the game against Connecticut. Then against Atlanta and Seattle, we had great contributions from our bench on the defensive end. They gave us a great boost—and as long as they can give us those solid minutes, it’s definitely going to help us.”

Is there anything your team needs to work on?

“After the disaster in Minnesota—that’s what we’ll call it—where we gave up 102 points, we realized that we are a very good defensive team, but if we don’t communicate, then we’re just an average team, and we’d just be reacting to what other teams want to do. But if we communicate, we’ll be able to anticipate where shots are coming from and it’s a lot easier to play defense that way. We luckily had those five days off after that game and we were able to refocus on our defensive philosophy and get back to communicating and anticipating.”

Did that loss refocus your team?

“Absolutely! We went on the road feeling like we’d had a great preseason. We felt especially good because we had a lot of players on our team that went overseas in the off-season and had very successful seasons. We were just disappointed with our effort—we corrected that, but it’s always a work in progress. The differences between teams across the league are going to challenge us, but that’s where our versatility comes in. For example, in the first few games you have Brooke Wyckoff, who didn’t score very much, but in her 24 minutes she played outstanding defense against the other team’s best player. Last game, we had Armintie Price, who gets 22 or 23 minutes a game, contributes seven points off the bench, and she’s out there for her defense on the perimeter. She gave us 13 good minutes in the second half and helped eliminate their (Connecticut’s) dribble penetration.”

Have there been any big surprises on the Sky so far this season?

“Yes, our resiliency over the last few games. In years’ past, we always got to the point in the fourth quarter where, if a team made a run on us, we’d almost collapse, thinking that we couldn’t win. I’m glad to see that our leadership is stepping forward. [Against Connecticut] Candice Dupree probably had her worst offensive game as a WNBA player, but we still scored 78 points, and it’s refreshing to see her leading the charge out of timeouts and telling everyone where they needed to be—that’s the sign of a true leader.”

Do you feel like those wins could be a turning point for the franchise?

“I think it’s too early to say it’s a turning point. But what we can say is that playing with more focus, intensity, and energy gets us better results. By no means have we turned the corner on anything, though. I think we’d have to wait until we play 15 or 20 games before we can say that because the league is very tough this year. The talent is better, the teams are better, they’re playing harder, and they’re scoring more points, so it’s really important that we stay focused—especially at home.”

What was your reaction to the resignation of Detroit Head Coach Bill Laimbeer?

“I don’t think it’s been any secret that he has NBA aspirations. He decided that he wanted to make that move now while [NBA] jobs are open. I wish him well. I think he did a great job.”

Does that move open the door for another team?

“I think, for them, they’re not going to slip at all. [Assistant coaches} Rick Mahorn and Cheryl Reeve are really good and they’ve been there the whole time with Bill, they know what’s going on. They’re very experienced coaches, so I don’t expect any drop off from them.”

How are your two rookies, Chen Nan and Kristi Toliver, developing in their rookie seasons?

“On one hand you have Kristi, who is a true rookie at 22 years old, immensely talented, with a great basketball IQ. But there’s always that adjustment period to the size, speed, and strength of the game at the next level—and learning an entire new offense. One thing that people don’t realize is that college players play in the same offense for 4 years, so you should be good at running that offense. Unfortunately for her, that offense is not the same as my offense. So she has to get used to running the team as opposed to looking to score a lot like she did in college. Sometimes the best offense isn’t the easiest offense. I expect her to learn very quickly—say 5 or 6 more games—then she’ll feel a lot more comfortable, her mistakes will start to go down, and then her minutes will go up.”

“On the other hand, you have Chen Nan, who’s 26 years old, married, a wealth of experience playing in her national league and the Olympics, but she has some of the same difficulties of having to adapt to play at that level for every practice, every game, where coaches are coaching directly against your particular skill set. They’re not going to give it to you easy; you’re going to have to earn it. So for her, she’s going to have to pick her spots, attack when necessary, and be a little bit more aggressive on defense and on rebounds.”

Overall, is there a different feeling to your team this season than in past seasons?

“There’s a lot more confidence. I get a lot more head-bobbing when I’m giving the pre-game speech. I think, really for the first time since we’ve been at it, they feel cohesive, and they have each other’s back and that’s really important because if you go out there and don’t put your best foot forward individually, you can rely on your teammates to pick you up. And then later on, a day will come around when you’ll have to pick them up. That’s what we feel after these first four games and that’s important because it’s going to carry us through our next games and through the season.”