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Sky impress despite Fowles' absence

Elena Delle Donne was a force on both ends of the court in the Sky's opening-night win against the Fever. Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The defending Eastern Conference champions won their first game of the season without a longtime star who is sitting out to force a trade. In an average WNBA season, that likely would have been the storyline involving the most drama on the league's opening night.

Alas, the Chicago Sky moving on without Olympian Sylvia Fowles is just another WNBA topic that has taken a back seat to the Brittney Griner-Glory Johnson soap opera, and the Isiah Thomas-New York Liberty controversy.

On a day when Griner said she's seeking to annul her marriage to Johnson -- an announcement that came some 24 hours after the news of Johnson's season-ending pregnancy -- there were protestors at Madison Square Garden who voiced their displeasure with Thomas having any involvement with the Liberty.

Contrast all that strife to the buoyant scene at Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago, where the Sky defeated Indiana 95-72 on Friday night. Picking up where she left off last season, Chicago's Elena Delle Donne was pretty much unstoppable, with 31 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.

Friday was also the Sky debut of Chicago native Cappie Pondexter, who came home to the Windy City in an offseason trade with the Liberty and had eight points and four assists.

Delle Donne loves how vocal Pondexter is on court, and the way that keeps everyone focused and energized. For her part, Pondexter said she was just happy to do whatever she could to help Delle Donne be at her best.

And both players, plus coach Pokey Chatman, seemed happy with how the team's post players ¬ including rookie Cheyenne Parker, the No. 5 pick in April's draft, ¬ did without Fowles.

"They were great at running the floor," Delle Donne said. "Our young players are responsive. There's a ton to still learn, but they want to learn."

Delle Donne is only 25 herself and in her third season, but she's the franchise player now. All the more so in the absence of Fowles, the 6-foot-5 center who wants a trade that Chicago has not been willing to make so far. While the Chicago organization and Fowles remain at an impasse, the Sky got the chance to see how Parker, a 6-4 center, would handle her first WNBA game. She had eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in 11-plus minutes of playing time.

"My assistant told me, 'Cheyenne's been here since 3:30 this afternoon; that baby's ready to go!'" Sky coach Pokey Chatman on rookie Cheyenne Parker

"She has high expectations of herself," Chatman said of Parker. "My assistant told me, 'Cheyenne's been here since 3:30 this afternoon; that baby's ready to go!' She can rebound the basketball, and she's a presence [inside]. She has decent hands, and a skill set where she can face the basket and hit the 15-16-footer."

Parker said when she came into the game in the first quarter, "I had a big smile on my face. I just had to stay composed and focus, but I was excited."

Parker played her first three college seasons at High Point University in North Carolina, and while there, she really wasn't sure she was WNBA-caliber. She figured she would go overseas to play professionally. But then she transferred for her last year to Middle Tennessee, where in 22 games she averaged 18.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks. She started hearing that she really was good enough for the WNBA, and she began to believe that herself. But then she was dismissed from her Middle Tennessee team in February for violations of athletic department policy.

Parker heard from several WNBA teams, including Chicago, and knew that she would still get drafted. But she wasn't sure how her off-court difficulties at Middle Tennessee would affect the way she was perceived by WNBA coaches.

"Yeah, I was definitely scared of that, but I'm a spiritual person and I kept my faith," said Parker, who wasn't in attendance at April's draft but watched on television with friends at school. "When Chicago picked me at No. 5, I was like, 'Wow.'

"Pokey called me not long after, and I just broke down crying. I said, 'Thank you for believing in me.' She never judged me. She told me that she sensed I really learned from the situation, and that encouraged me. That's my past, and I can move forward from it and continue to prosper in a positive way, with no more negativity."

For her part, Chatman has not tried to minimize Fowles' absence; she acknowledges that it's a difficult void to fill. But she sees that the Sky's post players are set on rallying to make up for what Fowles would bring.

It worked Friday against Indiana, albeit the Fever were without Tamika Catchings, who is still rounding into playing condition and won't be in action this opening weekend. The Sky won the battle on the boards 44-31, led by forward Jessica Breland with 13.

Overall, it was a good start for a Chicago team that certainly didn't want this limbo-like situation with Fowles but is prepared to move on. The Sky made it to the WNBA Finals last season with Fowles, but now they hope they can do it again without her.

"We have a great group; we're pretty young and we're all hungry," Breland said. "We know what we need to do to get it done to play different roles. Syl was a big part of us, not only on the court, but she was like a sister to us. But, like life, stuff happens in basketball and you have to keep rolling."