Sky make WNBA-record 28-point comeback in win over Las Vegas; Rebekah Gardner braces for L.A. homecoming

LAS VEGAS — In Rebekah Gardner’s 10-year pro career, her mother has been one of the only family members to see her play in person.

Traveling overseas isn’t exactly an easy jaunt, and her professional career up to this point had taken place outside the United States, so options for her family were limited.

On Thursday night, all the family has to do is jump in a car and make the 45-minute drive to Arena from Upland, California, to watch Gardner live out her dream — live.

“Joy,” Gardner said. “That’s the one word I can think of that comes close to describing how it’s going to feel to be back in L.A. [against the Sparks] in front of my family, playing on such a great team in the WNBA.”

The first stop on the West Coast leg of the Sky’s trip was Vegas for a meeting Tuesday with the top-ranked Aces, whom the Sky will play for the Commissioner’s Cup on July 26.

After missing two games with a knee injury, Candace Parker was back on the court without a minutes restriction. She had a double-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the Sky’s 104-95 victory. Courtney Vandersloot scored 25 points to lead the Sky, who set a WNBA record by rallying from a 28-point deficit. Gardner had four points.

Gardner’s overseas career began in Israel, but it almost didn’t begin at all.

After going undrafted out of UCLA in 2012, Gardner contemplated retirement. She was having a hard time connecting with the right agent and thought grad school would be her next move. It was a right-place, right-time situation that ultimately led her to an agent she clicked with and an opportunity she felt was right for her.

Since then, she has played for four more overseas teams, including one in Turkey with Sky teammate Kahleah Copper. Most recently, Gardner played for Spar Citylift Girona in Spain.

“Sometimes, you just have to take risks,” Gardner said. “I’m glad I ended up taking that one.”

After accomplishing her goal of playing in the EuroLeague, she found herself once again contemplating retirement, but this time it was a desire to spend more time close to home that drove her decision.

When free agency began and she received attention from the WNBA, including Sky coach/general manager James Wade, that changed quickly.

The first time Wade called Gardner, she wasn’t sold that it was a real opportunity. When he continued to call and attended two of her games with Girona, she knew this was different than any WNBA opportunity she had gotten in the past. She previously had been invited to two WNBA training camps, including the Sky’s in 2017.

In 14 games, Gardner was averaging 9.4 points and shooting 56% from the field coming off the bench.

Gardner’s mom is the person who suggested she begin playing basketball during the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, and her dad coached her during those early years.

As a kid, Gardner spent a lot of time attending Sparks games, looking up to Lisa Leslie and the New York Liberty’s Rebecca Lobo.

Since she picked up a basketball at 8, at the top of Gardner’s list of goals was making it in the WNBA. After crossing that off, she had a conversation with her mother about adding new goals.

Right now, she’s taking it game by game. Up next is a game she has been waiting for since she left UCLA in front of family and friends who haven’t watched her play in person since her days with the Bruins.

“The way I got here makes me more appreciative of it,” Gardner said. “It also taught me patience and to remain optimistic. If I had to go back, I would still have it happen the same way.”

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