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Sky added power in WNBA draft with Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso, left, poses for a photo with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected third overall by the Chicago Sky during the first round of the WNBA basketball draft.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso, left, poses for a photo with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected third overall by the Chicago Sky during the first round of the WNBA basketball draft.

CHICAGO >> Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese took South Carolina and LSU to the highest heights and helped spark a surge in women’s basketball.

No wonder the Chicago Sky were beaming. They landed two of the biggest stars not named Caitlin Clark in a loaded WNBA draft on Monday.

“This is a chess match,” coach Teresa Weatherspoon said. “And we actually got every player that we had designed to get. This is (an) exciting moment for us, exciting moment for the city, and this is (an) exciting moment for the Chicago Sky organization.”

The Sky took Cardoso with the No. 3 pick after she led South Carolina to a perfect season and the NCAA championship. Reese, the LSU star, got selected seventh overall.

Chicago, which won the WNBA championship in 2021, is banking on the two to help lead the franchise back to the top.

The Sky went 18-22 last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Former coach and general manager James Wade left in the middle of the season to take an assistant coaching job with the Toronto Raptors and was replaced on an interim basis by Emre Vatanseyer.

The Sky hired Naismith Hall of Famer Weatherspoon as coach in mid-October and promoted Jeff Pagliocca to general manager nearly three weeks later. When it came to the draft, the new regime did what it could to put Chicago in position to get Cardoso and Reese.

In early February, the Sky dealt 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for four draft picks, including the No. 3 choice this year. They acquired the No. 8 pick from Los Angeles two weeks later, and on Sunday, they traded up a spot with Minnesota. Chicago also drafted Gonzaga guard Brynna Maxwell with the first pick of the second round at 13th overall.

“We’re not that far removed from a championship,” Pagliocca said. “We’ve had great records. We keep making the playoffs. We’re not trying to slow down whatsoever. So we needed players that are going to come in and want to make winning plays, and the culture that they came from has got to mirror something that Coach Spoon is going to bring.”

The 6-foot-7 Cardoso led South Carolina to NCAA championships in two of her three seasons following a transfer from Syracuse. She was Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and capped it off with a dominant performance in the Gamecocks’ championship win over Clark and Iowa. She had 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in a game that drew more viewers than the men’s final between UConn and Purdue.

Reese, who played two years at Maryland and two at LSU, averaged 18.6 points and 12.3 rebounds in college. She was a three-time All-American and the SEC Player of the Year this past season. LSU won the NCAA championship in 2023 and reached the Elite Eight this year, losing to Iowa.

Now, Cardoso and Reese get to team together after going against each other in the SEC.

“She’s a great player,” Cardoso said. “I’m a great player. So two great players together, and nobody’s going to get no rebounds.”

Reese remembered the first time they faced off — in high school. Cardoso, who left her home country of Brazil, was playing for Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reese was at Saint Frances Academy in her hometown of Baltimore.

“My first time playing Camilla was on one of the biggest stages of my life, when she played for Hamilton Heights and I played for Saint Francis in high school, and we battled,” Reese said. “And now being able to be teammates is going to be amazing.”

Cardoso and Reese have the potential to form a dominant tandem. But they also have room to grow.

Reese, who shot just 32 3-pointers in college, probably needs to extend her range. It doesn’t hurt that she’ll be playing for someone with a connection to her college coach. Weatherspoon starred at Louisiana Tech in the 1980s when Kim Mulkey was an assistant there.

“I want to help them to grow, want to help them to grow in all areas in which we see they need growth and they know that they need growth,” Weatherspoon said. “That’s going to be important to me. My most important thing is not the X’s and O’s. My most important thing is to have a relationship. I want to connect. And when I connect, I can have the most uncomfortable conversations because I’m leading these young women to be the best versions of themselves every single day.”

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