UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Stefanie Dolson has always been a unique individual but has never failed to be a team player.
After graduating from the University of Connecticut 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 that I couldn't be in the wedding with purple hair," Dolson said Tuesday. "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 and 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 in Chicago 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. I'm not doing anything crazy, just pick and popping and screen and rolling. But it's working really well and making the game fun."
Dolson and Chicago wrapped up a five-game road trip Tuesday with a 93-72 loss to the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sky, who had won five of their previous six, 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 25 in the WNBA in scoring (21st at 13.6 points), rebounding (19th at 5.9), and blocked shots (ninth at 1.1).
"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. The last few years in D.C. I went up and down with what I took and how many I took. But now 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 last Wednesday. With the Sky trailing the defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks by one, Dolson took a pass in the corner from Vandersloot and, with the Sparks' Alana Beard running at her, 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 the trade for Delle Donne, who had asked Chicago to deal her.
But when the trade for Delle Donne -- which sent Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft which the Sky turned into University of South Carolina 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 at the end of the day 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 had been in D.C. for three years and I had gotten comfortable. I was ready for the next step in D.C. So to be traded was definitely a different experience. But 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.
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.
"It was fun," Dolson said. "I was honored to be chosen to play in the game. 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."
The Sky headed back to Chicago after Tuesday's loss and will host Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury Friday. At 8-14, the Sky trail the Atlanta Dream 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 six of its next seven games are at home. The bad news is that the Sky are 2-7 at home.
But Dolson feels the Sky are in the good place heading down the stretch. She's in a good place as well.
"The team chemistry has been great," she said. "On this team, we all just really, really enjoy being around each other. We love playing together, and we're having fun with the way we're playing together. It shows."
One look at Dolson says it all.
USA U-19 Team Advances
The United States U-19 national team picked up its fourth win in five days Wednesday to earn a spot in the quarterfinals of the FIBA U-19 World Cup. University of Oregon sophomore Ruthy Hebard had 21 points to pace five players in double figures and grabbed nine rebounds as Team USA routed Puerto Rico 104-46 in the round of 16 in Cividale del Friuli, Italy.
UConn freshman Megan Walker had nine points, three rebounds and four assists for Team USA, while Huskies' sophomore Crystal Dangerfield added six points, seven rebounds and six assists. UConn Class of 2018 recruiting target Christyn Williams chipped in 11 points, five rebounds, and a pair of steals.
The Americans will have Thursday off and face France Friday for a spot in the semifinals.
"They are competitors," Williams said of France. "We scrimmaged them and they were pretty tough. But we can do it. We will have to work together, like we did tonight, and we will be fine."
Team USA defeated Mali, China and Italy to earn the top seed out of Group A pool play. It took a 31-10 lead after one quarter against Puerto Rico and never looked back. Puerto Rico received 13 points from Pika Rodriguez, a 2017 graduate of Capital Prep in Hartford, Connecticut. Rodriguez will play collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh for Team USA coach Suzie McConnell-Serio.
In four games, Dangerfield is averaging 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.67. The Murfreesboro, Tennessee native had nine assists in Tuesday's Group A win over Italy to tie Ariel Massengale, a high school teammate of former UConn All-American Morgan Tuck, for the USA U-19 single-game mark. Her part of the record lasted one day as South Carolina sophomore Tyasha Harris dished out 10 assists against Puerto Rico.
Walker is averaging 9.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. Williams checks in at 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
UCONN Stays With Nike
UConn and its division of athletics has extended its exclusive sponsorship agreement with Nike through the 2022-23 academic year, the school announced Wednesday. Nike will continue to provide UConn teams with uniforms, apparel, footwear, practice gear and equipment in addition to making cash payments to the school.
The extension brings an increase in Nike's commitment to the school in terms of the retail value of the annual product allotment. The total value of the contract to the University from 2017-23 in combined product and cash is $32.45 million.
"I was thrilled to hear that UConn will be continuing its long-standing partnership with Nike," UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. "Over the years, this relationship has been extremely beneficial to my team and the athletic department at large. I look forward to UConn benefiting from Nike's innovations for years to come."
"It's wonderful that we will continue our association with Nike for years to come," added UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie. "Nike is the No. 1 name in college athletics and has been a big part of the success that we have enjoyed here at UConn. We couldn't ask for a more supportive partner as we move forward."
Nike first became the exclusive provider to UConn in 2008 -- the first-ever all-sports deal in school history.
"UConn is very proud of the relationship we have had with Nike over the years and now we can look forward to that continuing in the future," UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a statement. "The Nike agreement allows our student-athletes to practice and compete with premier sportswear and equipment and also provides our university with important financial resources."