Caleb Williams, Rome Odunze, Coby White show support as Angel Reese ushers in new Chicago Sky era: ‘It’s about time’

For two hours Tuesday night, the future of Chicago sports converged on the hardwood at Wintrust Arena.

The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Caleb Williams, joined Bears teammates Rome Odunze and Keenan Allen at one end of the courtside seating. Bulls starting point guard Coby White sat with his family at the other end. And on the floor, the No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft, Angel Reese, ushered in a new era for the Chicago Sky with her first home appearance in a preseason matchup against the New York Liberty.

Tuesday’s 101-53 blowout win came with plenty of caveats. It was only an exhibition game. The Liberty hadn’t played a full preseason game yet. But it still offered Sky fans something new — excitement for a future centered around its youngest stars.

Photos: Chicago Sky 101, New York Liberty 53 (preseason)

For Sky players, the newfound attention was a welcome reward as the WNBA prepares for one of the most highly anticipated seasons in league history.

“I’m going to just say — it’s about time,” guard Dana Evans said. “Everybody wants to watch women’s basketball. I feel like we’ve been doing a really good job of doing stuff on the court and off the court. So just having them support us is great — but keep bringing them out.”

Entry to Sky preseason games is limited to season ticket holders. This year’s crowd was notably larger than before, filling nearly one-third of the arena’s lower bowl.

That’s no accident. The popularity of the 2024 WNBA draft class drove ticket sales up across the league. According to a StubHub report, preseason ticket sales for the Sky this year are five times greater than in 2022 — and 41 times higher than in 2018.

With fellow rookies Kamilla Cardoso (shoulder) and Brynna Maxwell (knee) sidelined, the excitement of those fans was channeled mostly to Reese. The crowd roared during her first introduction. The PA announcer boomed Reese’s new nickname — “Chi-Town Barbie,” an update of the “Bayou Barbie” moniker made popular during her time at LSU — every time she scored.

Reese delivered, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes less than 24 hours after walking the red carpet at the Met Gala in New York.

With only two preseason games this year, Tuesday’s contest was a crucial step for coach Teresa Weatherspoon to narrow down her final roster. New guard Chennedy Carter made a strong case for herself with two steals and 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Returning guard Marina Mabrey flexed improvements made in the offseason with four assists and 20 points on 4-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers.

Teams will make their final cuts Monday, and the Sky will kick off their season two days later in Dallas against the Wings.