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Sophie Cunningham on Playing With the Goat and Why She’s Confident Phoenix Will Right the Ship

@SOPHIE_CHAM

Sophie Cunningham is a guard for the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. A University of Missouri alum, Cunningham was the highest former Tiger ever drafted into the WNBA when she was picked 13th by Phoenix in the 2019 draft. We caught up with Sophie to talk about life in the Wubble, playing alongside some of the game’s best, and what she’s looking forward to the rest of this season. 

[Editor’s note: this interview took place before Phoenix announced that Brittney Griner would be leaving the bubble for personal reasons.]

What are your thoughts on how the team has been playing so far?

We are a brand new team. The only two people who’ve been playing together for more than two years are Brittney Griner and Diana [Taurasi]. You have to kind of show us a little bit of grace considering no one’s really ever played together.

But when you have the big three – BG, Diana and Skylar Diggins-Smith joining the squad – those are three big time players, and Diana is the GOAT. As a team, we’re still trying to figure it out. When we’re on, we’re really freaking good, but when we’re a little bit off, we just have to stay together and stay as one. By the end of the season, I think that we’ll be able to gel and make a long run.

It’s your second year in the league, and you’re already starting games and making an impact on the team. How were you able to excel in what is often a difficult transition?

Well, thank you. I think for any rookie in any type of sport the first year is really just a learning experience. There’s so much change that you just have to embrace it and don’t be too hard on yourself and try to remain confident. I think everyone in the league was formerly a big time player, but now it’s time to adjust and own your role, whatever that might be. I’m starting for our team, but I probably only average about four points a game. I know my role. My role is to bring the energy, bring the intensity, hype up my teammates and do the dirty work. Get on the floor for balls, get rebounds and make good passes into BG. When the opportunity is given, when it’s time for me to score, then I can do that too. But I think that when you’re new to the squad and you have three big players, the focus is to give them the ball when they need it.

What is it like playing with the GOAT, Diana Taurasi? 

It is awesome. Getting to know her, personally and as an athlete, I realized why she is the way she is and it just freaking kills me. I think she’s so funny. She’s so nice. But I’m also very thankful that I’m her teammate, because I would hate to play against her. She is just so ruthless and reckless, but I just freaking love it. I think it’s good for women. I think it’s good for our sport of basketball – she is who she is and she owns it. I just love it. I ask her so many questions. She gives me advice – I mean, you have to. She’s the GOAT.

There’s still a good chunk of games left in the season, but what needs to happen to get back on track?

Our offense is really good – we just have so many threats from top to bottom. So that’s really not our issue, but defense is something we can work on.

You obviously aren’t traveling this season, but you’re playing a ton of games. How has that been on your body and recovery in general?

Traveling sucks. I think when everyone’s little they’re like, “Oh yeah, you want to travel. You want to do all that.” But when you’re doing it for a living, you don’t really get to enjoy where you are. You go to the gym, to the hotel and back home. So it’s been nice not traveling. It’s not as tiresome.

But at the same time you’re playing so many games consecutively – I think that’s pretty hard on our veterans. For me as a young player with fresh legs, I enjoy it. You don’t play one good game, you have literally two days until you can prove yourself again. So I like it, but I do see how it can be pretty difficult if you’re one of the vets.

You had COVID twice before entering the bubble. Can you describe that experience?

Last year was my first year going overseas and playing. I played in Australia and when I got back around March 7th—you’re interacting with so many different types of people from different countries. And I think I got it traveling back. I lost my sense of smell, taste and had a headache for about a week, but that one wasn’t bad. But then this last time kind of got me, and I don’t know how I got it, because I was following all the rules, doing what I was supposed to just so if we had a season, I’d be able to come play. But that second time got me. I had a really bad headache, sore throat and even getting up to go to the bathroom, I was just so exhausted and out of breath. So that one sucked.

That’s terrible. How long did it last for?

All the bad symptoms only lasted for four or five days, but I can still feel the after effects from my sternum and my ribs—they just feel way different than they did before. It is what it is. It’s a new thing. Nobody really knows about it. And so it’s hard to kind of know what to believe. I’ve just tried to follow the protocols, staying away from people as much as possible because back home we have a family farm and we’re around our grandparents a lot. And so I just want to make sure that, if anything, that them and my parents are safe. I’m following protocols in the bubble and will keep following them after the season ends.

Before you all went to the bubble there was some skepticism around the situation. Now a few weeks in, it seems like living in the bubble has exceeded expectations. Are you concerned at all about bubble fatigue as the season goes on?

I think one huge positive is that you get to meet and spend time with players outside of the court. Last year, we were kind of missing on our team that chemistry off the court and it showed on the court.

Our team has hung out a lot – you have no one else to hang out with. You spend every day together. So it’s been really nice, just being able to relax and watch TV together or have dinner. As a whole, I think the bubble has just been really good. People are embracing it. It’s new, it’s different. It does suck that you can’t see your family and friends like you normally do, but it’s just one of those things that we have to embrace. And I think this season we’re playing for something much bigger than just basketball. And so it’s been real fun to come together.

How has it been playing without fans?

You don’t really notice it. At the end of the day, we’re elite athletes, it’s competitive, and you’re just so focused that you kind of forget that you don’t have fans. So I don’t really notice much of a difference, honestly. The only weird thing is doing free throws. It’s almost too quiet. You can literally hear everything. You can hear people talking.

You talked a little bit about your role on the team. How would you define that role this season?

It’s hard because you think you know your role, but it could change any given day. You just have to be really flexible and be able to adjust. What they need from me is I’m the one who brings the energy. I’m the one who communicates on both ends of the floor. I bring that fierce, competitive attitude to the court. And I know that’s what my team expects from me and that’s what I expect from myself. So that’s what I do.

And what are your expectations for the remainder of the season?

I would like to finish the regular season in the top three. I think we have the power to do it. We have the players and the mindset. So now we just have to go do it on the court.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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