Kahleah Copper hasn’t lacked bulletin-board material as she has moved up in her WNBA career.
When the guard/forward was tapped for her first starting role with the Sky in 2020 after four seasons in the league, skeptics questioned whether she belonged. She responded with career highs in every statistical category, only for naysayers to wonder whether she could do it again.
The next season, she not only made it happen but was left holding the WNBA Finals MVP trophy as confetti rained down at Wintrust Arena.
This offseason, after the Sky’s first-round playoff elimination by the two-time champion Aces, the three-time All-Star’s fire is being fueled by her omission from both All-WNBA teams and by a new coach, Teresa Weatherspoon, who was hired last month.
“Seeing the All-WNBA teams, why rest?” Copper said.
For a second straight year, she has opted not to play overseas, but that in no way means she’s relaxing. After the Sky’s postseason exit, her individual workouts began. And this week, she rejoined the U.S. women’s national team for training camp and exhibition games coming up Sunday against Tennessee and Nov. 12 against Duke as staff evaluate the player pool ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics. Copper won a gold medal with the group in 2022 at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia.
As she keeps chasing new firsts, she now has Weatherspoon squarely in her corner.
“We connected over energy,” Copper said. “I’ve never had a coach that could really match my energy. That was something that really hit me.”
And Weatherspoon’s expectations for her star player go much further than an All-WNBA team.
“The energy is there,” Weatherspoon told the Sun-Times at her official introduction. “[Copper] can do so many things. She is so gifted in so many ways. As tough as she is and as good as she is, she could very well have her name spoken as an MVP candidate.”
Last season, Copper showed she’s capable of shouldering the load, averaging a career-best 18.7 points and leading the Sky to an 18-22 record and a fifth straight postseason appearance. But those results weren’t satisfying, and Copper has new confidence in the Sky’s direction after front-office additions that included Nadia Rawlinson as operating chairman and co-owner in January and Jeff Pagliocca as general manager on Tuesday.
“We talk about the vision and what we want to do, and everybody has to be on board,” Copper said. “Everybody has to hold each other accountable to be able to get to that vision. Having former players who have done it at the highest level really helps.”
That includes not just Weatherspoon, a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, but former NBA great Dwyane Wade, who joined the Sky ownership group this summer.
In seven seasons with the team, Copper has seen three coaching changes, the dismantling of a championship roster and now a rebuild. She acknowledged there’s a different feeling this time with these changes and promises from ownership about more to come.
“[When] we talk about player experience, what’s important and what we need to be successful, they know,” Copper said of Weatherspoon, Rawlinson and Wade. “So, it’s a different look and it’s a different mindset. Like ’Spoon said, we’re saying, ‘Gear up,’ and we mean everybody. It’s not just the players. It’s ownership. Everybody has to step to another level.”