Sky’s Emre Vatansever earns first win as interim coach

Alexa Philippou, ESPNJul 2, 2023, 07:42 PM ET

CloseCovers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

Chicago Sky interim head coach and general manager Emre Vatansever earned his first win, a 89-87 road defeat over the Indiana Fever on Sunday, some 24 hours after assuming those roles following James Wade’s sudden departure for an NBA assistant coaching position.

Vatansever — who has been with the Sky since 2017 — said he was less concerned about the exact game result and more so wanted to ensure his team responded well given the circumstances.

While the Fever erased a 14-point Chicago lead to tie the game late, the Sky kept them at bay behind Courtney Williams’ go-ahead jumper with 18.1 seconds to play.

“I felt they fought and that is enough of an answer for me, it was enough of a response to me — so I’m pretty happy for that, more than the win,” Vatansever said.

“Emre did a great job of having confidence in us and also being confident in himself and his game plan,” added Elizabeth Williams. “And I think everybody honestly responded really well to just the situation that we’re in.”

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The sixth-place Sky improve to 8-9 on the season and have now won three consecutive games, their longest win streak of the season.

When asked about his prospects of taking on the job on a permanent basis, Vatansever responded, “I am not thinking about myself at the moment not at all” and that his priority is getting his players to play their best basketball.

“I’m aware of the enormity of the opportunity. I’m ready, I’m prepared, I’m excited, along with my staff, incredible staff, to lead this incredible [group],” he added.

Wade’s exit — which players formally learned of Saturday — marked yet another significant departure for a franchise that is less than two years removed from a WNBA title. With Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Emma Meesseman choosing not to return to Chicago this past offseason, Wade constructed a new-look roster, bringing in the likes of Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Isabelle Harrison to surround 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper.

Now the Sky won’t ever be able to fully see out Wade’s vision, at least with him at the helm.

“I mean, it’s tough. Tough news, obviously,” Elizabeth Williams said of Wade’s departure for the Toronto Raptors. “This group, a lot of us came here as free agents because of James. And that’s the reality. But at the same time, we’re extremely happy for him. This is an opportunity that you can’t pass up.”

The Sky have experienced a host of injuries to start the 2023 campaign, with Rebekah Gardner and Isabelle Harrison still sidelined and Ruthy Hebard yet to make her season debut from maternity leave. The message internally regarding Wade’s departure, players said, isn’t all that different from what they’ve told each other all season.

“We have been playing pretty much this whole season with a next player up mentality,” Alanna Smith said. “We’ve had injuries. We’ve faced a lot of adversity and people have kind of had to step into roles that they didn’t really have before, but they’re ready to do. And I think Emre kind of put it in that way, like it’s just a next player up mentality for him now as well.”

Mid-season head coaching change or not, Chicago is aiming to make the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. While they had lost six straight games prior to their current win streak, signs are pointing in a better direction now, with players coming back from injury and others, like Courtney Williams, beginning to find their stride.

“Emre knows the system. We know what has been working for us and what we’ve been building on, so I don’t think that changes…the foundation is built. We understand what we need to do,” said Courtney Williams, who followed-up her first career triple-double Friday with 28 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds versus the Fever on Sunday.

Chicago is back in action Friday and Sunday with a pair of home games against Atlanta and hopes to build off the momentum it’s built the last week even amid a sudden coaching change.

“Just come in with a lot of energy,” Elizabeth Williams said. “Sometimes change is good, just a renewed mindset, the opportunity to reset a little bit and it’s nice to do that with three [wins] in under our belt. So we’re just going to continue to, brick by brick, and building off of that.”

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