Columnist

Sky's Fowles coming up big in Olympics

 
 
  • Team U.S.A.'s Sylvia Fowles, right, shoots over South Korea's Kim Kweryong during women's quarterfinal basketball game Tuesday.

    Team U.S.A.'s Sylvia Fowles, right, shoots over South Korea's Kim Kweryong during women's quarterfinal basketball game Tuesday. Associated Press

Published: 8/23/2008 12:00 AM

"Big Syl" is coming up big in Beijing.

And her employer, the Chicago Sky, believes it needs to think big to welcome her home. Sylvia Fowles will likely be returning from China next week with an Olympic gold medal, after all.

A rookie center with the Sky, Fowles has played a key role on the U.S. women's national basketball team, which is favored to zip past Australia in the gold medal game this morning (9 a.m., Channel 5).

A victory would mean a fourth consecutive gold medal for the United States, which is winning by an average of 43.2 points and getting a team-leading 13.4 points from both Fowles and veteran forward Tina Thompson. The 6-foot-6 Fowles also leads the U.S. in rebounding with 8.9 boards per game.

Leading scorer, leading rebounder. Not bad for a player who is the second-youngest on the team and has the least amount of international playing experience.

"Assuming they win the gold medal, we'll be taking out a big color ad of Sylvia in the newspaper to congratulate her. We're just so proud of her," Sky president Margaret Stender said giddily. "It's also our way of saying, 'We're back, she's back, and the first time you can see her is August 31, so come out and welcome her home.'"

Since many countries use WNBA players on their national teams, the WNBA went on a month-long hiatus at the end of July to accommodate the Olympic Games. The Sky last played on July 26 and will resume its season with road games on Thursday in New York and Friday in Washington. The team returns to the UIC Pavilion on Aug. 31 to host the Detroit Shock.

That will be the first chance Sky fans will have to reacquaint themselves with "Big Syl." She's a much different player now - much different from the player who looked a bit tentative and scored just 2 points in 12 minutes in her last Sky home game on July 22.

That was her first game since June 3, when she went down with a knee injury after she landed awkwardly while being whistled for goaltending (the first such call in WNBA history) against the Los Angeles Sparks. She spent the next seven weeks rehabbing.

Another month has passed and Fowles is finally back to her old self. She might be even better than her old self.

The confidence that she has gained by playing extraordinarily well on the world's biggest stage is immeasurable.

"Her confidence is definitely back," Sky coach Steve Key said. "This experience is going to do wonders for her.

"She's gaining a lot of confidence, and she's learning a lot, too. She's being exposed to a great coaching staff. And just the players she's getting to play with on her own team, she's seeing how the game is supposed to be played. I expect her to bring all of that knowledge and intensity to her teammates here. We're so happy to see her coming back."

Opponents in Beijing could say the same. The next time they see her will be too soon.

Fowles has been an intimidating presence in the lane. Her best game came in the quarterfinals against South Korea. She rolled up a team-high 26 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.

"I don't think there is anyone here in this tournament, besides from the men's team, who can handle her," forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said.

"Nobody knows how good Sylvia can be," veteran U.S. center Lisa Leslie said. "The sky's the limit."

And doesn't the Sky know it.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com