Looking Back: Courtney Vandersloot in 2012

As a rookie in 2011, Vandersloot was named as an Eastern Conference All-Star – and that was before she broke the Chicago Sky’s record for most assists in a season (127). But during the Sky’s media day in early May, the second-year player threw out such phrases as “I expect a lot from myself this year” and “I’m not a rookie anymore” as if the world hadn’t yet seen the real Courtney Vandersloot. After a sophomore season in which the 5-foot-8 point guard crushed her own (and franchise) record for assists in a season (157) and emerged as a legitimate scoring threat, one gets the feeling she’s still just scratching the surface of her potential.

“Sloot,” as she’s known in her circles, improved virtually every aspect of her game including scoring (her 8.9 point average was fourth best on the team), field goal percentage (particularly from beyond the arc where she hit 33 percent) and steals (her mark of 1.3 swipes per game nearly doubled last year’s average). Vandersloot’s bread and butter, however, is her ability to dish the ball. She either led or tied the team leader in assists in 23 of the Sky’s games in 2012. Her 157 assists was fourth most in the league and her 4.6 per-game average ranked No. 6. Vandersloot put up those numbers despite playing just 26 minutes per game – fewer than anyone else in the top 20 leaders in assists.

Appearing in all 34 games and starting in 27 of those, Vandersloot demonstrated steady improvement by setting career highs in every major statistical category. At Tulsa on Aug. 24, she nailed a career-best five 3-pointers en route to a career-high 23 points in addition to five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Two days later at Connecticut, she delivered 11 assists – a personal and franchise high for a single game and just five assists short of the WNBA record set by teammate Ticha Penicheiro, who cheered her on from the sidelines. In fact, Vandersloot always seems to get up for playing against star guard Kara Lawson and Connecticut. In four games against the Sun this year, she averaged 15 points and 7.5 assists. And on July 6 against New York, Vandersloot exhibited a fearlessness in hitting the glass as she grabbed a career-high seven rebounds.

The soft-spoken point guard, who has long preferred to defer to her teammates for scoring responsibilities, met a new challenge this year when her high-scoring All-Star teammates Epiphanny Prince and Sylvia Fowles each went down with injuries for long stretches at a time. As a result, some of the onus fell on Vandersloot’s shoulders to drum up some more offense. Sky coach Pokey Chatman encouraged her point guard – who is deadly from mid-range, particularly coming off screens around the free throw line – to look for her shot more often. Vandersloot grew noticeably more confident as the season progressed and in her last nine games, she averaged 13.0 points on 46 percent shooting – solid marks for a point guard. Following a victory late in the season, Prince raved about Vandersloot’s ability to strike the elusive balance between scoring and distributing the ball. “She’s just playing real poised, being more aggressive,” Prince said. “I always knew she could score the ball and (with Fowles) down, we need more points and she’s attacking better, looking for her shot. But she’s still running the offense and getting us in positions where we need to be.”

Vandersloot, has certainly stated her case as the Sky’s point guard of the future. And if she keeps improving year to year at this rate, the rest of the world just might see the potential that the Sky saw in her when they took her out of Gonzaga with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2011 WNBA Draft.