5 things to watch for as the Chicago Sky kick off the regular season, including a new coach, new GM and new rookies

The next step is here for the Chicago Sky, who kick off the 2024 WNBA season Wednesday with a road game against the Dallas Wings. This season represents a fresh start for the Sky, who welcomed in a new coach, new general manager and new rookies Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso this offseason.

Wednesday’s season opener will tip off in Dallas at 7 p.m. CT with a local broadcast on the U. The game will be streamed nationally on WNBA League Pass.

Here are five things to watch this season for the Sky.

1. Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese wade into WNBA action

The entire offseason for the Sky revolved around regaining draft stock which resulted in two selections: No. 3 pick Kamilla Cardoso and No. 7 pick Angel Reese. Both players are proven winners in the frontcourt at the collegiate level — winning national championships with South Carolina and LSU respectively — but making the jump to the pros is a completely different challenge.

The rookie pair brought a wave of attention following their popularity in the NCAA. Reese is already one of the most famous players in the WNBA, garnering three million followers on both Instagram and TikTok and earning headlines after starring at the Met Gala one day before making her preseason debut at Wintrust Arena last week. Both players bring similar goals into the league — a need to improve their outside shooting and an eagerness to make an immediate defensive impact.

Cardoso suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason that will sideline her for the opening weeks of her rookie season, but Reese is prepared to immediately leap into the rotation for the Sky — and maybe even into the starting lineup. The growth of these two players will be key for the Sky to compete this season and to build an identity for the future.

2. Teresa Weatherspoon takes the helm

Photos: Meet the 2024 Chicago Sky

This will also be a season full of firsts for head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who will make her debut as a head coach in the WNBA after previously dominating as a player during her career with the New York Liberty. Weatherspoon helmed her alma mater Louisiana Tech at the collegiate level and served as an assistant coach for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, but she has yet to lead a professional team as a head coach.

Weatherspoon’s background as a player development specialist will be critical in aiding Reese and Cardoso during their transition into the league. But for a team with weaknesses like the Sky — who lack outside shooting and struggled to produce consistent offense last season — this year’s challenges will extend beyond developing players at the individual level.

3. Diamond DeShields makes her return to Chicago — and the court

Few Sky players were more beloved than Diamond DeShields during her four-year tenure after being drafted by Chicago in 2018. DeShields was a pivotal player, providing a major boost off the bench for the championship team in her last season in Chicago. But health has been a constant hurdle in her WNBA career, most recently forcing her to spend the 2023 season on the sideline with a knee injury. In her return to Chicago, DeShields is looking for a fresh start.

DeShields is an athletic wing who built her identity around bouncy finishes at the rim, but she’s also adopted a more cerebral approach to her game in the seventh year of her career. She averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in the first six years of her career. While her homecoming brings an important piece to round out the perimeter unit for the Sky, this season also represents a crucial step for DeShields: a chance to prove that she can maintain longevity in the WNBA.

4. Sky face pressing facility questions

Even as the WNBA attracts new fans in droves, the Sky are still stuck with one relic of the past — their training facility at Sachs Recreation Center, a public community center in Deerfield where star professionals train one room over from Zumba and water aerobics classes. This is a key talking point for operating chairman and co-owner Nadia Rawlinson, who previously told the Chicago Sun-Times that the team hoped to make an announcement about a new training facility before the start of the season. That announcement still hasn’t come — and it could be the most important development of the season, on or off the court.

As the WNBA prepares to roll out charter flights for all teams — a major milestone that has served as a key bargaining point for the players’ union in recent years — the league appears to be rising to a new standard of player care and well-being. Moving into stand-alone facilities is a key piece of keeping up with that standard for the Sky.

5. Super teams, promising rookies face off across the league

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The Sky joined the rest of the WNBA in a tumultuous offseason focused on one goal — unseating the Las Vegas Aces, who solidified their super team status after winning back-to-back championships behind A’ja Wilson. The Aces and the New York Liberty are expected to start the season atop the league standings for a second consecutive year. But other front offices are aligned around two strategies this season: compile a roster around veteran stars or rebuild around highly-touted draft picks.

The Sky fall into the second camp as they dealt major trades to reacquire draft stock and select Reese and Cardoso. The most high-profile rookie-based team is the Indiana Fever, who drafted Caitlin Clark to join fellow No. 1 pick Aliyah Boston as the franchise builds around its young core. The Los Angeles Sparks embarked on a similar project by drafting Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson to helm a roster overhaul.

But the promise of these young players doesn’t outweigh the veteran experience of other rebuilt rosters, which extend beyond the Aces and Liberty. The Phoenix Mercury loaded up on talent by trading with the Sky for former star Kahleah Copper to fill out their roster alongside Britney Griner, Diana Taurasi and new addition Natasha Cloud while the Seattle Storm added Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith and retained Jewell Lloyd. And the Connecticut Sun remain a perennial top contender behind Alyssa Thomas, who continues to chase Wilson and Breanna Stewart as a contender for MVP.

The Sky aren’t projected to finish in the top half of the league by most analysts ahead of this season. But a breakout season from Reese or Cardoso could shift the tables in a crucial season for the league.