MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. - Stefanie Dolson has proven since the first day she set foot on the UConn campus seven years ago to be a unique individual. But she has never failed to be a team player.
After graduating and winning her second national championship with the women’s basketball team in 2014, the 6-foot-5 center from Port Jervis, New York joined the WNBA’s Washington Mystics as the team’s first-round draft pick. Part of her change to professional life was to dye her hair purple.
In her first season with the Chicago Sky, though, she’s back to the look she had in college. It has nothing to do with the Sky, but with Team Dolson.
“My sister is getting married in December, and she told me I couldn’t be in the wedding with purple hair,” Dolson said. “I had to dye it back to brown so it was healthy, too.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is her play on the court.
After being sent to Chicago in January in the trade that involved former Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne, Dolson - a two-time All-American at UConn - is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and blocked shots.
She was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the second time in her career.
“I’m fitting well into Coach (Amber) Stocks’ system here of pick and pop, screen and roll,” Dolson said. “Also, Courtney Vandersloot is an amazing athlete, and she’s able to find me easily so it’s great playing with her. I’m just doing what I did at UConn, and I’m doing it better.”
Dolson and Chicago wrapped up a five-game road trip last Tuesday with a 93-72 loss to the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sky trailed by just three late in the third quarter before the Sun’s 22-4 run over a 5:34 span put it away. Dolson finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
On the season, she ranks in the top 20 in the WNBA in scoring (18th at 14.3 points), rebounding (19th at 6.0), and blocked shots (ninth at 1.2).
“I think I’ve become more consistent,” Dolson said. “Even at UConn I would shoot some threes and maybe they would go in or maybe not. Coach Stocks has put a lot of confidence in me and my shot. I think that has just given me the green light to shoot them. It is up to me to make them, and I just step into them with more confidence than I have before.
“I’ve also added different things. I can pull up now. If someone is closing out on me, I have the ability to shoot a one-dribble pull-up. I’ve gone to the basket more, driving past defenders as they close out. It has allowed me to have counters to what the defense takes away from me.”
Dolson made the biggest 3-pointer of her career on July 20. With the Sky trailing the defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks by one, Dolson took a pass in the corner from Vandersloot and made a trey with 13.7 seconds left to put Chicago ahead. The Sky’s 82-80 win was the first loss of the season at the Staples Center for Los Angeles.
“I’d never made a game-winner before in my life,” Dolson said with a smile.
Dolson wasn’t all smiles during the WNBA offseason. She had spent part of the time playing in China. Then through most of January her name swirled in the rumors that she would be part of a trade for Delle Donne, who had asked Chicago to deal her.
But when the trade - which sent Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft which the Sky turned into center Alaina Coates - was consummated, Dolson had a positive outlook.
“It’s not always fun when you don’t have much control,” Dolson said. “But it’s a business and coaches and general managers do what they have to do. I looked at it as a fresh start.
“It was weird, but I fit in really well with this team and I’m just enjoying playing with them. I was able to get to Chicago three weeks early before training camp, so I got acclimated really quickly. With the new coaches it made the transition easier.”
Dolson added she felt no pressure being traded for Delle Donne, who was the MVP of the WNBA in 2015 and a member of the 2016 United States Olympic team.
“We’re not the same player,” she said. “I know we were in the same trade. Everyone realizes and knows that I’m not the same player as Elena. I came to this team trying to do whatever I can to help them and not try to be Elena. I can’t. I would fail.”
Being herself was good enough to be named as a reserve to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. She had five points and four rebounds in the East’s 130-121 loss to the West at KeyArena in Seattle a week ago.
She was one of a record seven UConn graduates chosen for the game along with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and her former Huskies’ teammates Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes and Breanna Stewart.
“I was honored to be chosen to play in the game,” Dolson said. “Being there with so many UConn players and even being there with some friends from the league, it was an amazing experience. Seattle did an amazing job of hosting us. The fans were great. The game was a good time. All and all it was a great weekend.”
At 8-16 following a losses to Phoenix Friday night (Dolson had a career high 29 points and eight rebounds) and New York on Sunday, the Sky trail the Atlanta Dream and Seattle Storm by three games in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot. If they have a run in them, it has to come soon.
The good news for Chicago is that four of its next five games are at home. The bad news is that the Sky are 2-9 at home.
But Dolson feels the Sky are in a good place heading down the stretch. She’s in a good place as well.
“The team chemistry has been great,” she said. “We all just really enjoy being around each other. We love playing together, we’re having fun together. It shows.”
One look at Dolson says it all.