Former Kentwood High School and Gonzaga star Courtney Vandersloot is learning the game as a rookie with the Chicago Sky. Tuesday, she'll face the Storm and Sue Bird, a player she has admired.
DEERFIELD, Ill. — For nearly a decade, fans thought there was only one Sue Bird.
Now, even Bird admits she has been duplicated on the basketball court.
Kent’s Courtney Vandersloot has taken her game to the WNBA and has drawn comparisons to the Storm’s seven-time All-Star while helping the Chicago Sky (7-8) wiggle its way into the playoff picture. Vandersloot, the third pick in April’s draft after playing at Gonzaga, will face Bird and the Storm at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a game televised by ESPN2.
“There’s going to be a lot of comparisons because she can pass and shoot,” said Bird, whose 7-6 Storm is trying to stop a two-game skid. “And it’s true. She’s legit.”
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Bird first met Vandersloot at a USA Basketball training camp in May. Vandersloot had become the first college player — man or woman — to score more than 2,000 points and have more than 1,000 assists.
Vandersloot was a sponge at the three-day session, watching and listening to everything Bird said or did.
“Sue is way beyond anything I am right now,” said Vandersloot, seventh in the league among active players in assists (4.6). Bird is fourth (5.2). “I’ve looked up to her since I was younger and I’m going to keep trying to learn from her. I’ve watched clips and every time (with USA Basketball) that I had a question, I’d go to Sue.”
Vandersloot was thrust into the Sky’s starting lineup when 13-year veteran Dominique Canty underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left knee in June. Canty is expected to return, but Vandersloot has averaged 26.8 minutes while quickly learning the pro game.
Her coach, Pokey Chatman, was a point guard at Louisiana State and coached Bird for Spartak Moscow, a EuroLeague Women’s team.
“The difference with Courtney is that Sue has been fortunate to have a cast around her that could carry her, and she could carry them,” Chatman said. “With ‘Sloot, that’s not established, yet, and she’s also a rookie. But I think their games are similar.
“Sue, she’s Rain Man. She remembers every play, every player, every action for the last four years. If Courtney can get close to that, she’ll be sensational.”
Vandersloot already has pieces of a solid team surrounding her in Chicago. She playfully calls the backcourt “Salt-n-Pepper,” lining up with sharpshooter Epiphanny Prince, who can also handle the ball.
Inside is All-Star Sylvia Fowles, a 6-foot-6 post player who blocked a career-high eight shots Saturday in a loss to Atlanta and is the league’s leading scorer (20.4).
“I’m happy she’s my point guard,” Fowles said of Vandersloot. “She can get the ball through three people and I’m like, ‘Uh, OK, make a move!’ I tend to get happy feet. Her court vision is great.”
Vandersloot is humbled by anyone praising her vision, however. She’s amazed at the speed of the WNBA.
“I didn’t realize it was so different here,” she said. “What would be open in college isn’t because of the other players’ level of skill and understanding of the game. It’s not that everyone is athletic. It’s they’re athletic and they understand it, and they’re talented. If I can let loose and play, then that’s better. But it’s tough to let loose because it doesn’t come natural.”
The humility and her soft smile is a sign Vandersloot remains that small-town baller.
She played hoops with the neighborhood boys, underestimated because of her frame until she whizzed by for a layin or zipped a no-look pass.
Another difference? At Gonzaga, everything she needed was five minutes away. Not so anymore.
“I was driving 45 minutes trying to find a Target and was like, ‘This is absurd!’ ” said Vandersloot, who lives in suburban Chicago. “It’s different because I’ve never really been that far from home. But I like the big city and the weather out here.
“I’m starting to settle down and feel like this is home. It’s still a whirlwind that I’m actually here and it’s so much faster and there are so many games in a week. I’m trying to adjust to that. But I have a lot of support.
“There’s probably only been a week or two that I haven’t had somebody out here with me because they want to come see.”
See the WNBA’s next special point guard emerge.