Looking Back: Ruth Riley in 2012

When talking about Ruth Riley there are few in the WNBA who are more involved in charity work, basketball clinics, and generally representing the league as one of its premier ambassadors. And still fewer have racked up the on-court accolades of the 12-year veteran. The Sky’s season ended in September, and even though Riley isn’t playing overseas anywhere, she remains as busy as ever in her travels to participate in campaigns for good causes.

Riley recently toured Africa as she works with NBA Africa to promote the sport among its youth. In addition, she’s a proud spokesperson of the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, which seeks to raise awareness about malaria, one of the leading causes of death for children in Africa. This is on top of her recent commitment to a more domestic cause, Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign, which included delivering free meals to kids in South Side Chicago. And when she’s not partaking in philanthropic endeavors, Riley has spent previous off-seasons as an author (she wrote a children’s book, “The Spirit of Basketball,” in 2005), a color commentator, and, of course, playing hoops in Spain, Poland, China, South Korea and Greece.

Only seven players have won a championship at the NCAA, WNBA and Olympic levels – and the Sky had two of them on their roster this year. One of them is forward Swin Cash, who added another gold medal to her collection at the London Olympics, and the other is Riley. The Sky brought both players to Chicago this year because they were proven winners and solid locker room influences. Their presence was immediately felt as Cash and Riley started all of the Sky’s first eight games in which they went 7- 1 – a franchise-best start. In the third game of the season, Riley put up her best performance with 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks against her former teammates in San Antonio. That would kick off an eventful June for the one-time All-Star and two-time WNBA champion. She received her third WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for the month of June (after claiming the Kim Perrot’s Sportsmanship Award in 2011), and she was inducted into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame on June 26 for her elite skills in sports and in the classroom at Notre Dame.

Riley proved valuable as a starter both in tandem with Sky forward Sylvia Fowles and as a replacement for Fowles when the latter went down with a leg injury. Averaging 2.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and an assist in 14 minutes per game, Riley was one of the team’s most reliable shooters from the charity stripe. Her free throw percentage of 78.6 percent was second highest on the team. And despite a season in which she played the second-fewest minutes of her career, Riley recorded some of her highest totals in assists (33) and steals (23). It certainly didn’t hurt to have Fowles to dump the ball to across the block, but Riley often looked to get her teammates going first. In addition to her career-high four steals against Washington on June 1, Riley reached 500 blocks for her career on September 7 at New York – becoming just the sixth player in WNBA history to do so. As she had done in Miami, Detroit and San Antonio, Riley helped establish a defensive presence in the paint. The Sky finished third in the league in points allowed (75.5) and first in limiting opponents’ offensive rebounds per game (8.1).

Sky coach Pokey Chatman knew what she could expect from Riley each time she called jersey No. 00: a solid rebounder, a tough post player with a high IQ, and a soft touch out to the 3-point line (she hit five 3-pointers in 2012). But Riley is just as reliable when it comes to making a difference in the community – an asset the Sky is proud to share.