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Sky-high expectations
by Ross Forman

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The leading scorer and leading rebounder from the 2009 Chicago Sky is gone, but optimism still reigns in the Sky.

In fact, the talk within the fifth-year WNBA team is that the blockbuster off-season trade of veteran All-Star forward Candice Dupree to the Phoenix Mercury as part of a three-team deal will be a long-term blessing for the Sky, mostly from an increased depth to the starting lineup, improved shooting range and overall defensive intensity.

The New York Liberty sent All-Star Shemeka Christon and Catherine Kraayaveld to the Sky. Chicago native Cappie Pondexter went from Phoenix to New York. The Liberty also will receive the Sky's 2010 second-round draft pick.

"We're looking good," Sky head coach Steve Key said. "We've gotten closer to [ being ] a playoff team each and every year, particularly this past season. I think a lot of good things are coming together for us."

Dupree started all 34 games for the '09 Sky and averaged 15.7 points per game ( ppg ) . She also averaged 7.9 rebounds per game ( rpg ) . Plus, Dupree was a 79-percent free-throw shooter.

Christon averaged 16.1 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Liberty, while Kraayaveld averaged 9 points and 4.6 rebounds.

"I think we have a lot of talent this season," Key said. "The big thing for us is, to keep our talent healthy. In particular, Sylvia [ Fowles ] , who has really only played one full season out of the two that she's been here.

"A healthy Sylvia is key for us."

Fowles started 20 of the 24 games she played in last season and was third on the team in scoring ( 11.3 ppg ) and second in rebounds ( 7.8 rpg ) .

The Sky also will rely on Kristi Toliver ( 7.6 ppg ) , Dominique Canty ( 6.9 ppg ) and Shyra Ely ( 6.8 ppg ) , among others.

"We definitely are thinking playoffs this season, as we were last season," Key said. "We feel, if we get into the playoffs—no matter where we're ranked heading into the playoffs—that it's just a three-game series."

Only four make the playoffs, "and we know we're very capable, very confident, and we know that we can defeat anyone," Key said. "We don't just want to make it to the playoffs; we want to advance," to the WNBA Finals.

Key said his biggest worry for the 2010 campaign is the team's intensity and focus. "If we're not prepared to do all of the little things to we, we won't succeed," he said.

Key tagged guard Toliver, in her second season out of the University of Maryland, as the team's potential breakout player.

"She's going to get the chance to really show what she can do," Key said.

Key said defending WNBA champion Phoenix is still the team to beat.

"It's a little unfortunate that we lost Detroit to Tulsa, and Sacramento altogether, but what it's done is, it's made every [ other ] team that much better because they're that much more talented," Key said of the WNBA, which now stands 12 teams strong. "There's even more parity this season than in past years.

"I think other teams realize that we're competitive. I don't know if other teams are worried about us, but they definitely realize that we have the potential to beat anyone on any given night."

The Sky's regular season begins Saturday, May 15, at the Connecticut Sun. See for more information.

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