In 2012 Sylvia Fowles surpassed former Chicago mainstays Jia Perkins and Candice Dupree – original members of the Sky franchise, which debuted in 2006 – in many statistical categories and entrenched herself as one of the WNBA’s greats. If Fowles had signaled her arrival in the 2011 season by becoming the second player in league history to average a double-double for the entire year, then her repeat performance in 2012 is a solid indication that she’s here for good.
In her fifth season, Chicago’s No. 2 pick out of LSU in the 2008 WNBA Draft played and started in 25 games, finishing with averages of 16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. While her points were down from last year’s output of 20.0 per game (thanks to the emergence of the team’s leading scorer, Epiphanny Prince), Fowles slightly improved in nearly every other category, including a 5-percent jump in field goal percentage to a WNBA-record of 63.8 percent. That mark helped her earn her third straight title as the league’s most efficient player with a rating of 22.7. Fowles finished as the team’s leader in rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks per game (1.2), while placing second in scoring and, perhaps most telling of her defensive prowess, in steals (1.3) – second only to Prince’s 1.8 swipes per game. “I’m going to do whatever they need me to do,” Fowles said of her encompassing role with the Sky. “I don’t think you can ever be satisfied at this job. You always want to add something to your game and make yourself better.”
Fowles began the season on a tear, tying her own league-record eight straight double-doubles (she would finish the season with 15) and claiming the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in May. The two-time All-Star and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year helped the Sky get off to a 7-1 start. With Prince manning the perimeter, Fowles simply dominated foes in the paint with her strength, quickness and soft hands. On June 8 versus Tulsa, Fowles grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds, tying a franchise record she set in 2010. Following an early July game against New York in which Fowles recorded her 82nd straight game of scoring in double figures, Liberty Coach John Whisenant remarked, “When you’re playing somebody like Sylvia Fowles, you need somebody big. She’s the best rebounder in women’s basketball.”
Fowles became the Sky’s all-time rebounder in 2011, but this season, she clinched several more of the Sky’s all-time distinctions. She passed up Dupree as Chicago’s all-time scorer (currently at 2,140 points), and now leads in offensive rebounds (348), field goals made (828), and free throws made (483). Fowles has played in 142 games for the Sky – third most behind Jia Perkins (164) and Dominique Canty (148). Presumably by the end of next season, Fowles will hold that record, too. The 6-foot-6 center would’ve passed Canty had she played in the nine games she missed due to a lower-leg injury in late August.
One last, but certainly not least, milestone came in the form of a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. It was Fowles’ second such achievement after representing Team USA at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Fowles averaged 6.0 points and 3.4 rebounds on a loaded U.S. roster that included teammate Swin Cash. And for a season of accomplishments in which she finished first in the league in field goal percentage, second in rebounding, and fifth in blocks, Fowles was named to the All-WNBA Second Team. Fowles isn’t your typical franchise cornerstone; she isn’t one to bark orders at her teammates. “I don’t say much; talking’s never been my thing,” she says. But when it comes to raising the level of play from herself and the rest of her team in order to win, she simply wants a fair shake. “I’ll get after you if you make mistakes. But I also expect the same in return. If I’m not doing my job, I want you to be comfortable enough to say, “Hey you’re not getting it done.” I’m fine with that. I enjoy criticism.” After another stellar season under the belt, only praises will be necessary.