Caleb Williams, Rome Odunze, Coby White show support as Angel Reese ushers in new Sky era: ‘It’s about time’

CHICAGO — For two hours on Tuesday night, the future of Chicago sports converged on the hardwood at Wintrust Arena.

The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Caleb Williams, joined Bears teammates Rome Odunze and Keenan Allen at one end of the courtside seating. Bulls starting point guard Coby White sat with his family at the other end. And on the floor, the No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft, Angel Reese, ushered in a new era for the Chicago Sky with her first home appearance in a preseason matchup against the New York Liberty.

Tuesday’s 101-53 blowout win came with plenty of caveats. It was only an exhibition game. The Liberty hadn’t played a full preseason game yet. But it still offered Chicago fans something new — excitement for a future centered around its youngest stars.

For Sky players, the newfound attention was a welcome reward as the WNBA prepares for one of the most highly anticipated seasons in the league’s history.

“I’m gonna just say — it’s about time,” guard Dana Evans said. “Everybody wants to watch women’s basketball. I feel like we’ve been doing a really good job of doing stuff on the court and off the court. So just having them support us is great — but keep bringing them out.”

Entry to Sky preseason games is limited to season ticket holders. This year’s crowd was notably larger than before, filling nearly a third of the arena’s lower bowl.

That’s no accident. The popularity of the 2024 WNBA draft class drove ticket sales up across the league. According to a report by StubHub, preseason ticket sales for the Sky this year are five times higher than they were in 2022 — and 41 times higher than in 2018.

With fellow rookies Kamilla Cardoso (shoulder) and Brynna Maxwell (knee) sidelined due to injury, the excitement of those fans was mostly channeled to Reese. The crowd roared during her first introduction. The PA announcer boomed Reese’s new nickname — “Chi Town Barbie,” an update of the “Bayou Barbie” moniker made popular during her time at LSU — every time she scored a basket.

Reese delivered, tallying 13 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes less than 24 hours after walking the red carpet at the Met Gala in New York City.

With only two preseason games slated this year, Tuesday’s game was a crucial step for coach Teresa Weatherspoon to narrow down her final roster. New guard Chennedy Carter made a strong case for herself with two steals and 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Returning guard Marina Mabrey flexed improvements made in the offseason with four assists and 20 points on 4-for-7 shooting from behind the arc.

Teams will make their final cuts on May 13 — and the Sky will kick off their regular season two days later in Dallas with an opening game against the Wings.