Sylvia Fowles of the Chicago Sky turns to the basket to shoot under pressure from Seattle Storm's Yolanda Griffith, right, and Sue Bird during Saturday's loss in Seattle.
The target is as clear as … well, a clear-blue Sky.
Ask Candice Dupree, or any other veteran of the Chicago Sky what her goal is for the 2008 season, and the answer is decisive.
"The playoffs," Dupree said firmly on Tuesday. "That's got to be the next step for us."
The Sky, which lost its season opener last weekend at Seattle and plays its home opener at tonight the UIC Pavilion against Sacramento, almost took that step last year.
Fighting for a playoff spot up through the final days of the regular season, the team went 14-20 overall and showed vast improvements over its 5-29 campaign as an expansion team in 2006.
"You know what? We just have to be a playoff team this year," said veteran Sky center Chasity Melvin. "We just missed out on it last year, and this year I feel really good about us."
Much of the optimism has to do with the addition of 6-foot-6 rookie center Sylvia Fowles of LSU. The Sky chose her in April's draft with the No. 2 overall pick.
Fowles was chosen after former Naperville Central and Tennessee great Candace Parker was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks.
"Sylvia is even better than advertised," Melvin said. "She can put the ball on the floor and dribble and she might even dunk on you. She dunks very easily. She'll do it four or five times during layup drills, and even when we do our post moves. It's scary. That's all I can say."
The Sky's inside game could be scary good.
Besides the much-hyped Fowles, there's Dupree, the all-star forward who averaged 16.5 points per game last year. Melvin is an 11-year veteran who averaged 15 points per game last year after being acquired by the Sky in an early-season trade.
The Sky does have some meat on the perimeter as well.
Point guard Dominique Canty, a Chicago native, ran the offense well last season while fellow backcourt mate Armintie Price won the 2007 WNBA rookie honors.
Price started every game last year and averaged 7.9 points and 6 rebounds per game.
"I feel really good coming into our home opener," Melvin said. "I'm excited about it. Actually, I'm more excited for the fans. We have a really good team and hopefully we can show everyone."
The Sky will also be showing off its new head coach to the hometown fans.
Steve Key had been an assistant coach with the team since its inaugural season in 2006 and took over when former head coach Bo Overton resigned abruptly this spring amid allegations of sexual harassment.
"It all happened so fast," said Dupree, who heard about the Overton situation while playing overseas in Poland. "But then I found out they hired Steve and I just felt like that was good because he's been around. He knows how we operate as players and we're used to working with him.
"So far, he's done a good job. So far, so good."
Sacramento Monarchs (1-1) vs. Chicago Sky (0-1) at UIC Pavilion
TV: 7 p.m., Channel 23
Radio: WVON AM-1690
Last time out: Sacramento lost to Seattle, 74-62; Sky lost to Seattle, 67-61.
Skinny: For the first time in nine seasons, the Monarchs will be without Chicago native and perennial all-star center Yolanda Griffith in the post. Griffith is now playing in Seattle… Despite that void, the Monarchs will still be tough down low, which should make for an interesting game. With the addition of 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles at center, the Sky is a much stronger post team this season. All-star forward Candice Dupree now has some freedom to play an inside-outside game and veteran center Chasity Melvin won't have to carry as much of the burden. The Sky will face a frontline from Sacramento that includes Rebekkah Brunson and Nicole Powell, both five-year veterans who scored 15 and 10 points respectively against Seattle on Tuesday.
Up next: Minnesota Lynx at Sky, May 29 (7 p.m.)
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw