Cappie Pondexter feeling rested, at home with Chicago Sky

ByMichelle Smith via ESPN logo
Friday, August 21, 2015

This is not an unfamiliar story. Cappie Pondexter hadn't had a break from basketball in nine years. She went from college to the WNBA, from the WNBA season to the European season, and then back to the WNBA -- with Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012 mixed in there as well.

"My body was feeling it," Pondexter confessed. She battled Achilles tendinitis through most of the 2014 season with the New York Liberty. She said it was hurting her game, prohibiting her from being the kind of player who was voted one of the top 15 players in the history of the league. She lost her explosiveness and speed. And she was tired.

And so, at the end of last year's WNBA season, she found the time and place for some time and space.

"I decided it was a perfect time for me to get away from Europe and regroup," the veteran guard said.

Pondexter went to play in Australia, which has a shorter, less demanding season than many of the European-based leagues. It was summer Down Under, and she was living on the beach, playing one game a week.

"It was awesome," Pondexter said.

When the season was done, she took two months to travel around the world. She visited friends, connected with family, ate what she wanted and rarely set an alarm clock. Australia. Mexico. California. San Antonio. Israel. Istanbul.

"It was definitely different for me, to wake up any time I wanted, to be on my own schedule," Pondexter said. "I did whatever I felt like doing. I hadn't had that in a long time."

And when she returned to basketball, something else had changed as well: her location. Pondexter was traded in February to the Chicago Sky for Epiphanny Prince in one of the biggest trades of the WNBA offseason.

For her 10th WNBA season, she was back in her hometown, the place where she had become an All-American high school basketball player at Marshall before heading to Rutgers for a stellar college career.

The two-time WNBA champion brought veteran leadership to a Sky team that wanted a little more of that in order to make another run at a title after reaching the WNBA Finals last year. And as a bonus, the Sky got a couple dozen more fans in the stands.

Pondexter said she has a regular group of about 20 to 25 family members and friends who come to watch her play at home.

"Oh yeah, a whole crew," Pondexter said. "My mother, dad, grandma, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. It's great to be able to finish the game and go out and talk to your family, see their faces in the crowd supporting you. I hadn't had that since I was in high school."

Pondexter, on most nights, has given them plenty to cheer about and given the Sky's offense a boost.

Healthy and re-energized this season, she has started every game thus far, averaging 15.1 points a game, second on the team behind Elena Delle Donne. She was named to her seventh All-Star Game last month.

With eight games to go, Chicago is clinging to the fourth playoff spot in the much-improved Eastern Conference, looking for momentum in the stretch run. Last season, the Sky made the Finals out of that No. 4 spot. The Sky play at home against second-place Washington on Friday night.

During this time of the season, Pondexter's championship pedigree could come into play for a franchise that got its first taste of real success last season.

"I've been lucky enough to experience WNBA championships (2007 and 2009 in Phoenix) and Olympic gold medals (2008 and 2012) and I think they thought that experience would be valuable here," Pondexter said. "Coming back home for me was perfect."

She said she's felt no pressure playing in front of family and friends. She's long past the point where she feels like she has to impress them.

"I'm just a competitor and I've been that way my whole career. I want to play well because I want to win, not because my family expects me to have a good game," Pondexter said. "I'm doing this for myself and my teammates. But I have really been enjoying this process with this team."