To Kahleah Copper, those five words can rival the meaning of a 500-word essay.
Those words represent beating the odds, growing up where dreams don’t often come true. They represent humble beginnings. It’s a reminder of where Copper was before being the second WNBA All-Star not just from Philly, but North Philly.
The Chicago Sky guard-forward sets an alarm for 7:40 each morning, but she barely could sleep the night before the All-Star announcement on June 30. She heard all the noise and was just ready to find out whether she had been selected.
When she finally got some sleep, she woke up to a text from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert asking to give her a call. For all the time that Copper had wondered about the All-Star Game, which is July 14 in Las Vegas, being chosen isn’t what crossed her mind when Engelbert reached out.
“I was instantly thinking: Did I not pay a fine or something?” Copper said.
Copper called Engelbert, who delivered the good news. In just her second season as a full-time starter and her sixth overall, Copper was joining Dawn Staley as the only players from Philly to be named WNBA All-Stars.
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“I just totally drew a blank,” Copper said. “I just had to sit and pray. It was a lot of prayer and a lot of having faith through my process.”
Copper’s journey was like riding a 60-mph roller coaster with inversions. She was up, down, and all around. Copper was the top-ranked high school recruit in Pennsylvania and 18th nationally coming out of Prep Charter in 2012 and went to Rutgers, where she finished her career third on the scoring list. The Washington Mystics picked her seventh overall in the 2016 WNBA draft.
Her stay in D.C. was short — just one season — before she was part of a trade with Chicago for reigning league MVP Elena Delle Donne. Four seasons into her career, Copper had started just 15 of 131 games. Her career highs were 16.2 minutes and 7.1 points per game.
“I got it out the mud,” Copper said. “I’m just grateful that I was able to embrace and trust my process and not give up.”
Suddenly, things clicked in her fifth season. Injuries plus preparation equaled opportunity. In the WNBA’s “wubble” last year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Copper became one of the WNBA’s breakout stars as she posted career highs in points (14.9) and rebounds (5.5).
Two moves played key roles in Copper’s offseason development.
For one, the Sky added five-time All-Star Candace Parker in free agency (to go with the return to health of former No. 3 pick and All-Star Diamond Deshields). Shortly after Parker’s signing, Copper attended Team USA’s basketball mini-camp. Copper was now on a roster that included five former All-Stars — the most talent, she said, that she’d ever been on the floor with.
“When you get to play with that type of talent and kind of measure yourself where you are, it gives you confidence and let’s you know that you belong,” Sky coach James Wade said.
Secondly, after the 2020 WNBA season, Copper joined NCAA Division II Purdue University Northwest women’s basketball team as an assistant coach. The team finished 4-15, but when Copper returned to the Sky, Wade noticed a difference.
“The communication improved tenfold and little details you don’t take for granted,” Wade said. “She doesn’t always depend on her athleticism now. I think she’s thinking the game more.”
Playing against elite talent boosted Copper’s confidence and coaching added to her cerebral side. Combine the two, and you have an All-Star.
This season the Sky are 10-9 overall, with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but are 8-2 since Parker returned from an ankle injury. Copper is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points per game.
Wade also said that putting Copper on the ball defensively is a major reason why Chicago has the league’s second-best defensive rating.
Copper has the charisma that has led to a leadership role that might seem awkward on a team with veterans like Parker, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot.
“Even in family life she’s someone who takes care of people and holds them accountable,” Wade said. “We allow her to have that space even with us, and it’s a natural role for her. The players lean on her for that.”
Copper takes pride in her growth into the player — a Philly player — she has become, especially because she accomplished it with “no handouts.”
“It just makes it 10 times better,” Copper said.
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