The 2011-12 offseason proved to be a momentous one for the Chicago Sky. Following a blockbuster trade on Jan. 2nd in which the Sky landed Swin Cash and Lecoe Willingham, head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman still hoped for another veteran player to help shore up the front court. So the Sky signed two-time WNBA champion Ruth Riley on Feb. 1.
Inserting Riley into the starting lineup alongside 2011 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles has given the Sky an entirely different look. It allows Riley, who is No. 6 all-time in blocks, to shoulder some of the defensive duties while Fowles can slide over to the 4 spot where she can use her speed and height to dominate other forwards.
After missing out on the playoffs in all six years of the Skys tenure with the WNBA, Chatman decided it was time to bring in proven winners. Riley, an NCAA champion with the University of Notre Dame in 2001 and WNBA champion with the Detroit Shock in 2003 and 2006, has done it before and is confident she can do it again.
Making the playoffs is the goal, Riley said. Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen from there. I think right now is just building a foundation that we need to be successful later in the season and down the road.
The Sky roster boasts a unique combination of successful veterans mixed with talented youth such as Courtney Vandersloot, Sonja Petrovic and Carolyn Swords. Riley is one of the key pieces brought in to help lead the youngsters and show them the ropes.
I am really excited about our potential, Riley said. I think my focus is bringing the experience that I have to help us make the playoffs and then well see what happens from there. Im just excited to be here.
The 6-foot-5 center provides a towering example of how to carry oneself on and off the court. In fact, Rileys list of off-court accolades seems to run as long as her career accomplishments. In the short time shes been with the Sky, Riley has been inducted into the Capital One Academic All-America Hall of Fame Class of 2012 and earned her third WNBA Cares Community Assist Award. She is also a fixture in the community, visiting schools, conducting clinics and working alongside non-profit and charity organizations throughout Chicago.
Riley has led her team to the playoffs 10 times out of her 11 seasons in the WNBA, and she is looking to add to that in 2012. But each time she returns to the postseason, Riley takes it as a new challenge especially for a group that hasnt been to the Promised Land yet.
The playoffs are almost a clean slate, she said. You worked hard during the season and now you have to do it with more on the line. We have the potential to do this, we just need to stay focused and well get there.
Chicago opened the season on fire with a 7-1 record and Riley has already made an impact, starting 14 of 17 games. The Sky currently hold the Eastern Conferences fourth-place spot and are on the cusp of qualifying for a playoff berth. With another 17 games remaining, Riley intends to lead the Sky into uncharted territories.