Christon enjoying freedom with Sky
New acquisition taking to Chicago's freewheeling style
CHICAGO -- Life off the court for Shameka Christon has been different in Chicago than it was in New York.
In New York, she found her way around the city with no trouble after spending six years with the Liberty. On her first day in Chicago, Christon turned a short drive to the store into an hour-plus adventure on her first day, and she still won't navigate any further from the street names she knows.
Chicago also feels much colder than New York to her, and as any true tourist, she still believes it's nicknamed the Windy City because of its weather.
The adjustments that Christon has made off the court are no different from those of any WNBA player who was traded during the offseason. What Christon, a 2009 All-Star, didn't expect when coming to the Chicago Sky from the Liberty, though, was a difference in playing basketball. That, too, has been different, and she's not complaining.
"It's a very big difference," said Christon, a 6-foot-1 forward who came to the Sky with Cathrine Kraayeveld in a three-team trade in March. "It's unreal to me, honestly. In New York, a lot of things are very, very structured. You didn't want to deviate outside of the structure. And here, it's more free flow, and they're just wanting you to relax and play basketball.
"That's one thing I have to say that I love because I don't have to worry about anything but playing basketball. It's more or less, 'Use your instincts.' I can't sit here and say it was like that in New York."
CHICAGO SKY vs. CONNECTICUT SUN
When 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.
What you need to know: Coming off a 16-18 season in which the Sky didn't reach the playoffs, general manager/coach Steven Key has shook up the team and made some changes. In March, he sent Candice Dupree to Phoenix and a second-round draft pick to the New York Liberty in exchange for 2009 all-star forward Shameka Christon and sharpshooter Cathrine Kraayeveld. He also drafted scoring guard Epiphanny Prince with the fourth overall pick. Prince skipped her senior season at Rutgers to play overseas last season. The Sky also return Jia Perkins, Sylvia Fowles, Kristi Toliver, Dominique Canty and Erin Thorn, who were all key pieces in the 2009 season. All together, Key looks to have put together a stronger, deeper team than a year ago.
To be fair to the Liberty, Christon could see changes being made last season when Anne Donovan replaced the fired Pat Coyle as the Liberty's head coach. The restrictions were lightening up.
Sky coach Steven Key's basketball mentality is still different from that of any coach Christon has encountered. Key wants his players to experiment on the court without worrying about boundaries and consequences. When they do eventually make a mistake, Key will explain what went wrong.
"It's funny; Coach Key is like, 'Shameka, I want you to penetrate, go, take that,'" Christon said. "But I'm like, 'Wait, it's the first pass. Are you sure?' It's like [in New York], 'You better not shoot or take it on the first pass.' He's like, 'I want you just to play basketball. Everyone will play around you. It'll all work out. We'll all jell that way.'
"It's completely different. For me, I feel like I have to go back and relearn the game."
Christon flourished under New York's disciplined structure. Her numbers improved in each of her six seasons there, and in 2009 she was selected to her first All-Star Game and averaged a team-best 16.1 points a game.
Key believes that Christon is capable of even more in his system, and that's why he worked so hard to acquire her.
"We were looking for some talent at the wing spot," said Key, whose Sky open the regular season on Saturday at the Connecticut Sun. "Someone who can probably shoot 3s, as well as drive the ball and is a good defender. Her name kept popping up. In my mind for the last couple years, I've kind of identified her as the ideal person I like at the wing spot."
Sky guard Erin Thorn knows exactly what Christon is capable of in Chicago. Before joining the Sky last season, Thorn played her previous five seasons with Christon in New York.
"I think anybody benefits from a little bit of freedom," said Thorn, who also has been Christon's guide to Chicago off the court. "Obviously, there's some structure, but there's more freedom here than in New York. I believe a player like her that's aggressive, can attack the basket and is quick off the dribble, I think that plays to her advantage. If a defender is playing her the wrong way, it's not, 'You have to wait for this or wait for that.' You can just attack. I think that will help.
"It's just her fitting in the system now. She's got the full package."
Christon achieved one major goal by becoming an All-Star. Now she has her eyes set on a championship ring.
"I had to work hard for it," Christon said of her All-Star selection. "I didn't go to a big college. That was my choice. I don't regret it. But it wasn't like, 'Shameka Christon of UConn or Tennessee or Duke.' [Arkansas] wasn't a big-name school like that. I couldn't ride on the coattails of my school or teammates. I'm not taking anything away from those players because I think they're all great players. But I'm just saying I had to start from the bottom and and prove that I should be an All-Star.
"For me, that speaks volumes. It's such a great accomplishment for me. It's a small accomplishment of the bigger picture of what I really want. What I really want is a championship. A championship."
Scott Powers is a writer for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.