Chicago Sky’s Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese embrace ‘finally’ being teammates — and they want to set a new tone on the boards

When their names were announced as selections by the Chicago Sky on WNBA draft night, Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese shared one thought: finally.

Just weeks earlier, they were deadlocked in the paint in the SEC Tournament championship game — swatting each other’s shots, locking arms as they jockeyed on the low block, laughing as they exchanged barbs during stoppages.

It wasn’t a friendly game, ending with a scuffle that resulted in multiple ejections. And when the pair was drafted by the same team barely a month later, the jokes were quick to follow.

But for both rookies, college basketball is already a lifetime ago. And LSU’s Reese and South Carolina’s Cardoso are confident in their newfound partnership — even if they steal a few boards from one another along the way.

“We’re going to be fighting over rebounds, I know that,” Reese joked. “I love that though. Being able to go in and battle, being able to have a teammate where every day I know she’s going to work hard and do whatever it takes at the basket. I’m a competitor and I know she’s a competitor too.”

Reese and Cardoso first faced off as freshmen in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals. Since then their paths have crossed as peers and opponents — but never as teammates.

Many top NCAA women’s players build familiarity before they hit the WNBA during time with Team USA, but Cardoso represents Brazil in international play. Although both were selected to the McDonald’s All-American team in 2020, the game was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, costing them another chance to suit up on the same side.

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Years of competition have built a shared respect for their ability to compete on the boards and around the rim.

“We’re going to do great things together on both ends of the floor,” Cardoso said. “She’s a great rebounder, I’m a great rebounder, we’re both great finishers around the rim and we also can pass the ball. I think it’s going to be really exciting to watch us together.”

Rebounding was a clear focus for the Sky front office in drafting both Cardoso (No. 3 pick) and Reese (No. 7) — especially after an underwhelming 2023 season in which the team finished ninth out of 12 teams with 33.3 rebounds per game.

Size was an obvious issue last year for the Sky, who open the 2024 preseason Friday night against the Minnesota Lynx at the Target Center. They struggled to score in the paint and protect the rim, and while they were relatively strong on the offensive glass — ranking fourth in the league with 8.6 offensive rebounds per game — that’s an area the rookies are eager to bolster this season.

They want to do more than just clean up the glass. Cardoso and Reese will need to use this season to develop their shot, but they hope to create on the offensive end while establishing the sturdier defense the Sky missed last year.

Despite utilizing similar strengths at the same general position, both players understand their games are different. Cardoso hopes to take after A’ja Wilson and Brittney Griner, while Reese models her game after Candace Parker. But they share a common goal: running the court and setting a physical tone.

“Being able to have a post player that can run the rim as fast as she can and being able to go with her and run with her,” Reese said. “If I miss a defensive assignment, she’s going to be there. If she misses a defensive assignment, I’m going to be there.”

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The next question, of course, is how exactly this will work. With rim protector Elizabeth Williams anchoring the group and Isabelle Harrison returning from injury, the Sky frontcourt went from understaffed to overloaded the past six months.

Coach Teresa Weatherspoon didn’t offer any hints as to whether Cardoso and Reese will start together, rotate in or come off the bench at the start of their rookie year. Weatherspoon plans to use the two preseason games to assess player strengths and solidify the best rotations.

Neither rookie voiced concern about her potential role on this year’s roster. They share a similar mentality for their first season in the league: make the final roster, then prove they can dominate at the professional level.

While their days as college competitors ended only a few weeks ago, Cardoso and Reese have embraced their new roles as teammates who will push each other — and opponents.

“It’s literally just basketball,” Reese said. “We’re just here to compete. Me and Kamilla competed hard all these years. Everybody has known that. But we’re just competitors and that’s just what we do.”