Elena Delle Donne credits teammates

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Swin Cash talked about a chance meeting at a pancake house. Elena Delle Donne preferred to talk about Cash and Sylvia Fowles. And Fowles? Well …

We could try in print to approximate the primal scream of happiness that came out of Fowles when she was asked how it felt to finally be in the WNBA playoffs. But we truly couldn't do it justice.

Suffice to say, as this Chicago Sky trio was honored with league awards before the franchise's first-ever playoff game on Friday, Fowles nearly knocked a few people out of their seats with that joyful screech.

Prior to taking on the Indiana Fever in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal at Allstate Area, Delle Donne was presented the league rookie of the year honor, an award she made suspense-free with her exceptional play all season. Delle Donne was the unanimous choice on all 39 media ballots. Delle Donne is also, of course, on the league's all-rookie team.

Fowles, for the second time in her career, was named the league's defensive player of the year. And Cash was co-winner, along with the Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings, of the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award.

In a news conference before the game, Delle Donne, Cash and Fowles sat side by side, all former No. 2 draft picks who have lifted the Sky to the postseason for the first time.

Cash was the No. 2 pick by Detroit in 2002, and is trying to win her fourth WNBA title. Fowles was selected No. 2 behind Candace Parker in the 2008 draft. And Delle Donne was second to Brittney Griner earlier this year.

But Delle Donne was second to no rookie in her performance this season. She averaged 18.1 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Sky, who went 24-10 in finishing first in the East.

Asked how Olympians Fowles and Cash have helped her this season, Delle Donne said, "They never treated me like a rookie. Having leaders like that who believed in me really meant a ton to me.

"Every day, they are talking to me in practice, giving me so many pointers. They are amazing role models to look up to."

The Kim Perrot award is an homage to being a role model, named after the late Houston Comets guard. Cash said she recalls watching Perrot play, and has talked to some of Perrot's former teammates about the kind of person she was.

Cash and Catchings, who've played together on the U.S. national team, have been foes in the WNBA for more than a decade.

"The thing I really like about Tamika is we can be great friends off the court," Cash said, "but when we step on the court, you might not even know we recognize each other."

That's because they are both known as ferocious, single-minded competitors when the game is going on. But they are also outgoing ambassadors of the sport. When asked about how the Sky's success this season has earned women's basketball new fans in the Windy City, Cash mentioned that the reach goes further than Chicago.

She said she was in an IHOP near the arena after shootaround Friday, and ran into two fans who had driven in from West Virginia to attend the game.

"I'm from Pittsburgh, so I know how far that is," Cash said of the fans' trek from the Mountaineer state. "They said they started watching the Sky at the start of the season and just had to come up here for the playoffs."