Looking Back: Sonja Petrovic in 2012

Sonja Petrovic quickly discovered that Chicago was unlike her homeland of Serbia and nor was it similar to Russia, where she played for four years before coming to the WNBA. She was likely thrilled to find that spring in the Windy City was a breeze compared to the brutal winters of Moscow from where she had come. While the people, the customs and the layout of the land were all foreign to her, Petrovic knew she was wanted in Chicago.

That’s because her coach at Spartak Moscow Region happens to be the same head coach of the Chicago Sky – Pokey Chatman. Under the watchful guidance of Chatman and her Sky assistant, Christie Sides, Petrovic had blossomed into a consistent threat in the competitive EuroLeague. In 2008, Petrovic was named the FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year. That same year, she led the Serbian national team to a bronze medal in the U19 World Championships. By 2012, she had developed into a 6-foot-1 sharpshooter who ranked No. 3 in the EuroLeague for 3-point shooting percentage. Her height and quick release made her nearly un-guardable from outside as she averaged nine points, five rebounds and two assists per game. That’s when Chatman knew she was ready for the WNBA.

There were still a number of obstacles, however. Petrovic’s rights belonged to San Antonio, which had drafted her in the 2009 WNBA Draft. But the Sky struck a deal in which they surrendered their second-round pick of the 2013 Draft and, on March 14, Petrovic became a member of the Sky blue and yellow. Unfortunately in the following month, Petrovic broke a finger on her off hand during team practice in Russia. While she said it affected her dribbling and catching and delayed her start to her first ever WNBA season there was also the small matter of adjusting to the WNBA, a game which she called much “faster and more physical” compared to EuroLeague. Though she had plenty of experience playing professional basketball, she was still just 23 years old – the age of most rookies when they enter the WNBA. As a precaution, the Sky held Petrovic out of the first four games of the season until her debut on June 2 at Atlanta. The Serbian had every reason to play below her capabilities – new team, new country, tougher league, a heavily-taped broken finger – but she didn’t. She introduced herself to the Dream and the rest of the WNBA by hitting all four of her shots and scoring 10 points to go with four assists and two rebounds in just 21 minutes. Five games later, she hit five field goals for a career-high 13 points against reigning champions Minnesota. Petrovic proved that basketball is basketball, no matter what country it’s played in. She proved that she doesn’t back down in the face of the league’s best teams. And most of all, she proved that she belongs in the WNBA.

Petrovic went on to appear in all 30 games after her debut. When injuries depleted a Sky backcourt, she got her first start on June 29 against Phoenix and scored nine points in that game. Later in the season when the Sky mounted a last-ditch push for the playoffs, Petrovic came up big with a 10-point, six-rebound effort followed by a 10-point, eight-rebound performance two nights later – both against mighty Connecticut. She finished her rookie season with averages of 4.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and one assist in 15 minutes of action per game. When given 20 minutes or more in a game, those averages bumped up to 8.7 points and 3.8 boards. Petrovic showed her game has tons of promise for the future. But for now, the foreigner showed she belongs in Chicago.