Courtney Vandersloot, WNBA point guard for the Chicago Sky, is an assist assassin. The astounding play maker led the league in assists the past five seasons. She holds the all-time WNBA records for most assists in a season (300) and highest assists-per-game in a season (10). Also she broke the league record for assists in a game, with 18 against Indiana on August 31, 2020.
“I don’t want anybody else calling their point guard a Point God, because we have the one. Just the way that she reads the floor,” said her teammate Gabby Williams. “I know if I cut, I know she’s going to see me. I know if I run the floor, I know she’s going to see me. And I think she’s the only point guard in the country that you can say that about.
The dime dropper was named an All-Star her rookie year and again in 2019. And fellow Gonzaga point guard John Stockton once said of her, “I don’t want to dramatize it too much but she’s like Gretzky in hockey. There is something that separates Courtney from others.”
So today, we’re going to take a look at Courtney’s basketball evolution from high school to Gonzaga, and on to the Chicago Sky. We’ll reveal her go-to moves, strengths, weaknesses, and stats. Plus, we’ll cover how her wife has impacted her game, and what’s next. You’ll even find out a few wild card surprises along the way — for example that Mia Hamm was her first idol!
Courtney was lucky to grow up in a neighborhood with lots of kid her age. “All we did was play sports, all sports” she said, recalling her youth. Her father put up a sport court behind her house, but no one could see her playing basketball back there. So instead she’d go out front to her neighbor’s regular hoop to ensure other kids came out to play with her — particularly the boys. The bigger, stronger, faster opposition she experienced right on her street ensured she developed her game.
But she was a soccer player first. “I grew up wanting to go to North Carolina because of Mia Hamm,” she said. “Once I got into high school and basketball started interfering with club soccer I found I dreaded going to soccer practice. I was having so much fun developing my game. I just fell in love with it.” She loved it so much so, that during the third grade, she wrote a school paper about her dreams of one day playing in the WNBA.
Just a few years later, Courtney became a basketball star at her hometown high school, Kentwood High School. There, she turned into the all-time leading scorer for the school with 1,684 career points. And stood out, as the state of Washington’s leading scorer as a senior, averaging 26.0 points, 7.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 steals per game. Earning her the title of the top point guard in the state of Washington, as well as one of the Top 15 point guards in the country. She was also named the Seattle Times 2007 State Player of the Year.
As fate would have it, one of her friends wanted to cross the state for a basketball camp at Gonzaga, before Courtney’s sophomore year at Kentwood High School. And Courtney tagged along. “I just fell in love with [the] place,” she said of Gonzaga“I felt so comfortable [there].” As far as she was concerned her future was set.
During her junior high school year, she averaged 18.5 points, 7.2 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game. While leading her team to a 24-5 record, making them South Puget Sound League Champions, earning a third place finish in the SW District and helping the squad to its first trip to the Washington State 4A Tournament.
By that time the Bulldog staff was equally sold on her. Except for Head Women’s Basketball Coach Kelly Graves, who didn’t get the opportunity to see her until the day before the state tournament her junior year. Finally, he watched her practice and offered her a scholarship on the spot.
“I really hadn’t seen her play in a game but I knew she scored well,” Graves said. “We pride ourselves on development and I wanted her to know we would work with her so I said, ‘We really think you have to be a better passer.’ ” Apparently she took that as motivation and signed with Gonzaga in November.
In her high school senior season she led Kentwood to a 28-1 record, and a third place finish in the state, losing to eventual state champion Lewis and Clark in the semifinals. She was named the South Puget Sound League North Division MVP, and the state tournament Most Valuable Player, after finishing one point short of the Washington state record for points in a tournament with 113. To cap it off, she was named Most Valuable Player of the Washington State Coaches Association All-State basketball game.
In short, Courtney had arrived on the scene, and proven she was there to stay. So how did the 63rd best prospect in the country, as rated by Scout.com, progress in college?
Courtney’s impact on Gonzaga was immediate, dishing out 191 assists as a freshman. She played in all 34 games, starting 27 of them. And led the team in assists per game (5.6) and was second in points-per-game (10.6). She had 22 double-digit point games, and scored a career-high 20 points at Pepperdine University in February of 2008.
And she scored in double figures in all three WCC Tournament games. As a result, she was named the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year, and garnered WCC All-Conference and WCC All-Freshman team accolades.
One skill she honed that year with the help of teammate Rachel Kane was her decision-making on the floor. “Coming in as a freshman the game is so much faster that your decision-making has to be that much better and as a point guard they expect that,” Courtney explained.
Her phenomenal passing continued throughout her four years. She broke the school record when she had 239 assists her sophomore year. With another 321 her junior year she passed the Gonzaga (600) and WCC (659) career records. And with her 327 assists her senior team was the highest scoring in the nation at 86.1 points a game.
In her final season at Gonzaga, she scored double-figure points in 35 of 36 contests. She scored a career-high of 34 (her second 30-plus game of the season) against the University of Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19. Then dished out a then-career-high 16 assists against Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament championship game.
As a result of her phenomenal season, she won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the top NCAA Division I women’s player no taller than 5’8″ and Nancy Lieberman Award as the top player at her position in Division I women’s basketball. Courtney also became the first Division I player, male or female, to have accumulated 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in a career, and is only the second female overall.
“I think Gonzaga is special because of her,” Pepperdine coach Julie Rousseau said the day Courtney beat 1,000. “They’re a great team but she makes them better. She is the consummate point guard. A thousand assists and she’s not done. I don’t think words can describe just how special that is.”
Finally, she was done, with 2,073 points and 1,118 assists. The Bulldogs lost just three of 56 league games over Courtney’s four seasons. Making their overall record 109-25 since she arrived on campus. Plus, they were ranked in the top 15 and made the NCAA Tournament three times, including their very first trip to the Sweet 16 a year ago. “She is the face of the program,” Coach Graves said. “I don’t think it takes away from anyone else. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime player.”
During her college career at Gonzaga University, Courtney was the only women’s player in West Coast Conference history to be named the conference’s player of the year three times. Plus, she was also the only player to be named MVP of the WCC Women’s Tournament three times. Up next, it was time to prepare for her WNBA debut.
Courtney was widely anticipated to be one of the top prospects in the 2011 WNBA Draft. Though her relatively small size was a subject of concern. As was her defense—despite averaging 4.5 steals per game in the 2011 NCAA tournament and ending her Gonzaga career with 366. However, at the time she was expected to be one of the top seven picks. She was ultimately picked third overall by the Chicago Sky, where she joined stars Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince.
In her rookie season, she became the Chicago Sky’s starting point guard, starting 26 of the team’s 34 games. While the team finished 14-20, many of the defeats were by less than 10 points. And Coach Pokey Chatman’s inaugural season with the Sky was viewed as a step in the right direction — to “Focus, Fight, Finish for 40 minutes.”
That year, Courtney’s average of 3.7 assists per game was 11th in the league and second among rookies. And her 127 assists on the season was a franchise record. Her play earned her a spot on the 2011 All-Rookie Team, garnering 10 of a possible 11 votes from the league’s head coaches. But there were aspects of her game she still wanted to improve.
Courtney couldn’t quite hold onto her college momentum in her new surroundings, and was often viewed as a tentative offensive player, and the physicality of the game in the WNBA bothered her. Courtney said, “There was a point where I felt I had almost (hit a) plateau. I was inconsistent and it would benefit our team, if I could focus on me for a bit. Because the mental aspect of my game [was] not anywhere close to what I want it to be.”
Luckily, she found what she was looking for, in trainer Chris Hyppa, a former Division II guard. “We did a lot of skill-work, but the No. 1 thing I had to do with her is change her mindset and her whole approach. I wanted her to adopt a more confident, mean, ‘I’m the best point guard here and I’m not going to back down from anybody approach,” said Chris Hyppa.
By her third WNBA next season, her development was cemented. As Coach Pokey Chatman put it, “It may not make ‘SportsCenter’ highlights, but Slooty’s really starting to figure out pace, level and direction. And she’s not overwhelmed anymore.” As a result, she became a regular starter for the Chicago Sky.
That year, Courtney found herself playing on a Chicago team with a well-rounded pool of talent. The addition of forward Elena Delle Donne changed the complexion of the franchise for the better, with Courtney setting the tone.
After she opened the season with a 14-point, three-assist effort against the Mercury last Monday, Sky coach Pokey Chatman said she believed her point guard was poised for her best season yet, having put on 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season to deal with the rigors of league play. “I feel like I’m able to handle the physicality better,” Courtney herself said. “I’m a little bit thicker and it’s helped me handle pressure. I’m not feeling so vulnerable.”
The Sky entered the playoffs for the first time in franchise history on September 20th that year, but ultimately couldn’t hang. Following up their best season yet, again the next year, Courtney, along with Elena, led her team to become the 2014 WNBA Eastern Conference Champions. And she helped the team to the 2014 WNBA Finals against the Phoenix Mercury in her fourth season. But unfortunately, the Chicago Sky were swept 3-0 in the series.
That year, in 2015, Chicago posted the best home record in the Eastern Conference (13-4) and the second-best overall season record in franchise history (21-13, .618). Plus, the team set a league and franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season after averaging 12.09 turnovers per game.
While 2016 wasn’t a standout year for the Sky, by 2017, with a revamped roster, a first year head coach, the team turned what many thought would be “a rebuilding year” into a record-breaking year in individual and team career-highs and milestones.
Courtney then in her 7th year, set new WNBA records for the highest assists average for an entire season (8.1) and most points/assists double-doubles in a row (6). Meanwhile, with their new formula of formula of sharing the ball and stifling defense, the 2017 Sky finished 12-22, just a few games back from playoff contention.
Courtney and the Sky kept after it, but still haven’t secured a Championship. “Definitely competing for a championship is what every athlete works hard for. Right now, it’s just getting this franchise into a situation where we are competing for a championship,” Courtney said. “It’s not gonna come overnight. We’re young. Me, I’m just trying to get better every year, trying to understand the game better. I feel like at this point in my career I’m understanding the game a lot better than I was early on.”
Though, Courtney continues to set new records every year. In 2019, she was named to the All-WNBA First Team; in 2018 and 2015 she was named to the All-WNBA Second Team; she has been a WNBA All-Star twice (2019, 2011), and she received WNBA Peak Performer Award recipient four times (2019, 2018, 2017, 2015).
Ten years later, and still going strong with her original franchise, Courtney resigned a multi-year contract with the Sky in February 2020. “The ownership, coaching staff, my teammates, and the Chicago Sky fans have been nothing but supportive my whole career,” Courtney said. “I love being on the Chicago Sky and look forward to competing for a championship.”
In her 2020 season, after being the league’s assists leader for four consecutive seasons now, she officially become the first WNBA player to average double-digit assists in a season. She also broke the WNBA’s single-game assist record this season with 18 on August 31 against Indiana. The previous record of 16 was achieved twice by Ticha Penicheiro, in 1998 and 2002.
The Sky had been a hot pick to contest for a championship during the 2020 WNBA season in the bubble, with most anticipating a third-year leap from athletic wing Diamond DeShields and the length of newly-acquired forward Azurá Stevens to bolster the team’s already-excellent backcourt play. Though, while Courtney led her team to a 12-10 record, the seventh-seeded Sun eliminated the sixth-seeded Sky in a one-game opening round playoff game.
One thing was clear though: the Sky were an offensive force when Vandersloot was on the floor with an offensive rating of 111.5 points, which led the league by far mid-way through the season. And the drop-off with her on the bench was dramatic: 84.6 points, which would be last in the league by a wide margin.
Courtney has shown solid progression every year — there was even talk of her as a potential league MVP. As the Chicago Tribune dishes: [she] is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated great players of her era.
That comes largely from her scoring totals — her career-high average entering 2020 was 12.5 points in 2018 — and from some subpar seasons from the Sky. But those around the WNBA are starting to take notice of what people in Chicago have known for some time — that [Courtney] is one of the league’s best ball handlers and creators on offense.
In more recent years, her team has really started to gel around her – with the supporting cast of Allie Quigley, Ruthy Hebard, and Cheyenne Parker. Though the Chicago Sky continue to get world-class play from Courtney, and can push the envelope with their perimeter players, the team’s front court must have a stronger presence in 2021 if Chicago is to reach its ceiling. It remains to be seen whether Courtney will bring home a Championship.
According to High Post Hoops, Courtney is paid $117,500 this season by the WNBA. Courtney has also played overseas for a number of years, signing with the Turkish club Beşiktaş as far back as 2011. And she also agreed to play for Hungary’s national team after becoming a Hungarian citizen. So her multiple income streams likely put her above $200,00 per year. Learn more about WNBA salaries (which should be higher!) here.
What’s really incredible about Courtney, is that she has all the tricks in her bag – the spin, the behind the back, the swift cross over, but she’s able to get the bucket without resorting to them most of the time. When she’s going downhill, she’s one of the best guards in the WNBA. She finds the open person, and keeps it that simple. Let’s take a look at some of this passing phenom’s highlights.
But that’s not all!
in this highlight video, Courtney Vandersloot drops a WNBA record 18 dimes in the Chicago Sky win over the Indiana Fever.
Here’s a great compilation of her highlights: The no-look pass! The cross over and drive. The baseline reverse layup. The floater to finish in the paint. And the make over Brittney Griner! Plus, at 8:15 the way she just lulls the defense to sleep, confusing the big, and getting the wide open close shot is incredible.
And check out the best highlight video of Courtney from 2018, kicking off with a running, one-legged three.
All the way back in 2017, she was hitting the assists too. This under the basket, behind the back, dish off is lethal.
Courtney has a few moves that are her defaults. Let’s take a look at what’s in her bag.
Despite being just 5-foot-8, Courtney isn’t afraid to drive into the teeth of the defense in the lane. She can navigate her way around taller defenders (we’re talking more than 6 feet when it comes to the tallest WNBA players), all while keeping her head on a swivel, persistently looking for a passing lane.
As shown by this chart, most of her assists come from at the rim. She usually connects the big with the ball right under the basket, either by bringing the defense to her, and then sending the bounce pass through, with the no-look or the dump-off. She’ll also use this a lot when she’s at the foul line, finding space to weave a pass, even when it looks like there is none, or going overhead for the big’s far hand.
Though, a shift in her play has begun as her assists from three-pointers in 2018 and 2019 skyrocketed to 80 and 91 respectively.
Sloot is also deadly in the pick-and-roll, taking advantage of the mismatches presented to her. Coming off the screen, defenders can’t go up and blitz Courtney. For the fear that she will drive right by them to the basket. So in turn they choose to give her space, which she uses to keep surveying until a pass opens up. Typically the big rolling off the screen will get the pass up high to her hand closest to the basket.
For this one Sloot typically splits the defense, puts it up underhanded, and secures the and one. She also uses this finish on fast breaks a lot. She gets her shoulders ahead of the defender, puts up the scoop and makes it a three point play.
Courtney has a lot of successful plays where she crashes. And then kicks out to Dolson or Quigley for the three. Typically she crashes on the left here, and kicks out to the right.
Everybody in the league moves the ball forward. But only some have started to capitalize on moving the ball backward or back out. Taking advantage of the space and confusion it can create. Several times per game, Courtney will drive towards the hoop. Her quickness allowing her to maneuver around a defender. Only to see a sudden change course, and dribble back out to the perimeter.
Courtney does a great job of contesting with her left arm on right-handed players. Whether they are passing or shooting. While staying in a defensive position, and in front of right-handed shooting players, Courtney reaches up with her left arm. Rather than crossing over with her right and losing ground.
Back in 2011, Courtney changed her way of play. And began averaging a career-high of 18.6 points, with a vast array of new shots in her skill set. John Stockton was at the heart of it, having given Courtney some pointers about improving her confidence.
One-handed passes, floaters in the lane, footwork. “Things that no one would ever think of, but he has that knowledge he can share,” Vandersloot said. “The things he does are all based on confidence,” she added. “The things he was teaching, I was thinking that had to be a low-percentage pass or low-percentage shot. The fact is, if it’s done with confidence it becomes a high percentage. That’s what he always harped.”
Some of these moves, turned into her greatest strengths down the line. Today, she plays with the ball on a string. And she has every pass imaginable — from the fundamental to artistic — in her arsenal. As NBC reports, she’s a maestro in every context. From sprinting out on the break, to surgically slicing double-teams, to no-look cutter-finds and beyond. Let’s take a look at a few of the areas where this pass-first point guard shines.
Courtney has evolved into perhaps the best passer in league history, a title that was further solidified by her WNBA-record 18 assists this season. She finds the pass, if it’s there to be made. And threads the needle to a teammate for an open look.
She is always looking for an opening, constantly searching for a hole in the defense. Courtney can find her teammates in all phases of the game on offense. She can make any pass from a no-look feed to a floating ball over the top of the defense if they don’t get back on defense quickly enough. Whether it’s half-court or in transition, if a teammate is open, there is a good chance they are receiving the ball from her.
What makes Courtney’s play so special is her consistency. She’s been playing at this level for quite a while now. Whenever the Sky needs her, she’s there to get them in the position for a quality shot in crunch time.
Just this past season, she contributed directly to two game-winners for the Sky with both coming against the Las Vegas Aces. The first coming in the season opener when she fired a pass from the baseline to Allie Quigley in the corner for the game-winning shot. Then towards the end of the season, she ran a pick-and-roll to her right, waited for a bit, then fired a bounce pass to Azura Stevens for the tie-breaking basket with just seconds remaining.
She’s the engine of W’s second-most efficient offense (scoring 106.6 points per 100 possessions) behind only the juggernaut Seattle Storm.
“You wouldn’t find a [more] selfless leader, and you can tell in the way she plays,” Coach James Wade said. “We just wanted to be there for her and make shots for her once we had a feeling that she was going to get that record… And it’s actually a good reward for somebody so selfless, and I just appreciate being a part of it.”
Courtney exudes a sense of confidence that is contagious, obvious when watching teammates on the floor with her. She seems to take away any hesitation or uncertainty her teammates have just with her presence. Sky players know they have an experienced point guard who allows them to play the way they do and lends tutelage when necessary.
As told by Kelly Graves, “Courtney…is a tremendous leader, hard worker and one of the greatest competitors in women’s basketball today. She comes up the biggest when the spotlight is the brightest- a true gamer. Her court vision, ability to set her teammates up and her ability to get into the lane and make things happen make her an imposing threat.”
2018 Chicago coach Amber Stocks said Courtney is extremely valuable to the franchise because she represents the pinnacle of competitiveness and work ethic, with the ability to play to her strength and play within herself.
“She does all that so well on the court, and represents the city of Chicago extremely well,” Stocks said. “Sloot is a great person. Her teammates just adore her. But at the same time, they know, she’s gonna get on them on both ends of the court if something isn’t up to standard.”
Courtney runs the offense with “aggressive patience.” “That’s something I’ve worked on since I’ve been in the league,” Courtney said. “And Pokey has me watch film on NBA guys—you see that a lot more in the NBA game. Just having the confidence to keep your dribble alive. Which, in the past, I’d turn it over more, because I’d pick it up sooner than I should have.”
“There is a lot of my game that I need to get better for us to go far. I like having that expectation because I know I’m willing to do whatever it takes my team to win.” said Courtney, way back before being drafted. Let’s take a look at some of her opportunities.
Courtney’s made huge strides here, but it will always be something she has to work on. Making herself an offensive threat has taken years of practice.
Already back in 2015, Pokey Chatman said, “I tell her, I don’t want to play 4-versus-5, be a threat. That’s the first statement. Then you back that up with clips. I’m not gonna pick and roll for you if you’re not an option coming off the pick. Then, if she’s still reluctant, I’ll move her away from the ball, and I’ll run stuff for her where she has no choice.”
However, this past season, she scored at the highest clip of her career (13.2 points per game), draining buckets from all over the court to the tune of an elite 58.9 true shooting percentage while maintaining a league-leading 4.16 assist-to-turnover ratio. Still, betting on herself with help with closing out wins, and that’s the biggest opportunity.
Sue Bird is at a 39.1% for her career, and 46.9% for the 2020 season. So at 34.6% Courtney has an opportunity to knock down some more threes or improve her shot selection.
Courtney can be even more dangerous by executing a left handed skip pass across the court to the opposite right corner. That way should quickly connect with an open Allie, for the knock down three.
With a little more patience, Courtney could work the re-screen more frequently, off the top of the key pick and roll. This could get her some more open looks.
To be a great scorer, you have to do the dirty work. And Sloot averages less than one offensive rebound per 36 minutes over her career. With a focus on offensive rebounds, she’ll always putting pressure on the defense. By not giving them a single moment to rest, and not worry about her, she’ll tire them out more quickly.
There’s one more thing you might not yet know about Courtney on the court. She plays with her wife!
In December 2018, Courtney married Allie Quigley – also a guard for the Chicago Sky – at the downtown hotel Edgewater Inn in Seattle. Making them the WNBA’s second married couple, joining the Phoenix Mercury’s DeWanna Bonner and the Indiana Fever’s Candice Dupree.
The ceremony included Sky teammate Diamond DeShields. Though, they kept their relationship private until announcing their nuptials on social media two days after the marriage.
“I’m lucky enough to play and travel with my wife,” Courtney said. “It’s awesome. We compete. We get at it… make each other better. I’m hard on her, but that’s how it’s been since the beginning. I credit a lot of my individual success to her.
“It’s so weird, but it’s never been hard or difficult for us,” she continued. “We’re both on the same level of how committed we are to basketball and our careers and that’s what makes it so easy.”
In fact, their off-court and on-court connection has helped them both achieve new heights in their careers every year. During the 2020 season, Courtney’s record-breaking 18th in-game assist fell into the hands of sharpshooter Allie.
With just over a minute remaining in the contest, the Courtney found Allie in the corner, where the three-time All-Star rose up and drained a three-pointer. After the game, Courtney described assisting her wife for the record-breaker “puts a little cherry on top” of the monumental feat.
Today, the thing Courtney is most proud of is the longevity of her career in a league that features many of the best women’s basketball players in the world.
“There was a point in college that I didn’t even think I could be in the WNBA,” she told The Spokesman-Review back in 2018. “There was a point in my rookie year that I really felt like I wasn’t good enough. For some reason, I still feel like the underdog. I’m always trying to make sure I stay here.”
“There’s a lot of players that should be in the league that aren’t. We just don’t have the spots for them. I just continued to work hard, did things the right way…I’m proud of that.”
Both Courtney and her wife resigned with the Chicago Sky in 2020, who kept their core intact. On the court, she’s still on the hunt for a coveted Championship. This milestone, she too, will pass.
Off the court, she remains active in pushing for social justice and supporting causes she believes in, such as Chicago Public schools.
We can’t wait to see what this rocket ship for the Sky does next.
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She’s spent eight seasons in the top 10 for assists and nine seasons in the top 10 for assists per game. Two seasons in the top ten for steals. And three seasons in the top 10 for her two-point field goal percentage. Plus, three seasons in the top 10 for offensive win shares.