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Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Courtney Vandersloot adds burgers to hoops diet

By Sarah Spain

All season, it's been tough to catch up with Chicago Sky rookie Courtney Vandersloot. Practice, home games, away games, All-Star appearances, Nike appearances -- the girl is living on a steady diet of hoops.

When she gets a free minute, she rarely ventures into the city. She's happy to sprawl out on the couch in the Skokie apartment she shares with former Gonzaga teammate and current Sky intern Carter Schick.

Well, even a busy girl's gotta eat, so I managed to lure Vandersloot, fellow Sky rookie Carolyn Swords, Schick and the Sky VP of operations, Michelle Henstock, down to the city for a bite and some girl talk Monday night. We met up at DMK Burger Bar in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, just a few blocks from Wrigley Field, where the legendary Paul McCartney was closing out a two-night run.

It was hot and sticky outside and loud inside, with patrons packed into large, communal, wooden tables. We ordered some specialty burgers, fries and salads, and the girls got down to the very serious business of planning the next evening's movie night. Henstock, a brash, funny Australian who first moved to the States to coach hoops and get her master's, shrieked with delight when she learned that the movie "Soul Surfer" was set to come out on DVD.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream was a must for the party, squealed Henstock, but Schick, a health nut who wakes before 5 a.m. most days to go for a run, argued homemade smoothies would be a smarter choice. As the two battled over the menu, who would get the coveted spot on the floor (Schick isn't a fan of the lumpy couch) and whether the movie would be paused to catch the latest episode of MTV's "Teen Mom," the quieter half of the table, Vandersloot and Swords, looked on in amusement.

Vandersloot, 5-foot-8 and slim, wearing a sideways Vans hat, a snug Nike T and dark jeans, piped up every once in a while with her two cents ("We have to pause for 'Teen Mom,' it's the one time I can watch it live!") but it's clear she's happy to let her more boisterous friends lead the conversation. Swords, a 6-6 rookie out of Boston College, is soft-spoken and ladylike; she's the go-to gal when the rest of the team wants a lesson in manners. Later in the evening she was asked to weigh in on whether bathroom talk is appropriate at the table; blushing, she ruled no.

When the topic changed to office hijinx, Schick and Henstock continued to hold the floor, trading stories about the goings-on in the Sky headquarters downtown, including Schick's penchant for hiding under (or in) desks to spook coworkers. Vandersloot admitted she has pulled her own tricks, including scaring the bejesus out of Swords, hiding behind the door of their hotel room the first time they roomed together on the road.

Vandersloot is as comfortable giving the spotlight to others in social situations as she is on the court, where she leads the team in assists, averaging 4.3 a game. She has found success on the pro level quickly, as she made the East All-Star team as a rookie and was just recently added to the U.S. national team pool.

Her leadership and poise on the court belie her age, but off of it she's just your average 22 year old, gabbing about boys and TV. She's a big-time Justin Bieber fan, fell in love with Ryan Gosling after seeing his most recent flick, "Crazy, Stupid, Love," and loves to veg out and watch reality shows like "The Jersey Shore." She was the most excited, almost like a kid, when talking about a recent tweet she got from her hero, Mia Hamm. She beamed as she talked about the message and Hamm congratulating her on the All-Star appearance.

Vandersloot has eased into the basketball side of life, but she misses her family and her old teammates and is still adjusting to post-college "real life." When friends or family come into town, she tries to take them down to explore Chicago, but she admits she's still far from a Chi-Town girl. She's not the biggest football fan ("Who's Brian Urlacher?"), but I assured her a Bears tailgate by the lake would change that. And I've still got my sights set on introducing her to the one-and-only Weiners Circle, a true late-night Chicago tradition.

Of course, more than nights on the town or burger binges, she's focused on getting the Sky to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The team is smack in the middle of the Eastern Conference, at 9-11, five games back of the first-place Fever.

If the Sky make a deep enough run, she'll be in Chicago late enough to catch that tailgate. Of course, I'll have to catch her first.