College helps prepare Millender for professional career


Alexa Sandler / The DePaulia

DePaul senior Ashton Millender attempts a 3-pointer against Creighton in the Big East Tournament March 11 at Wintrust Arena.

Ashton Millender’s tenure playing college basketball at DePaul might have come to an end on March 23 in a heartbreaking NCAA Tournament loss against Missouri State, but her professional career is just getting started.

Standing at 5-feet-8-inches, the fifth-year senior guard from Glenwood, Illinois signed a training camp contract with the Chicago Sky, the local WNBA franchise that plays at Wintrust Arena, on May 4. Millender was one of 18 players invited but wound up being the third invitee to get waived on May 12. The Sky’s move to cut Millender came just one day after Gabby Williams, fresh off a Euro Cup Championship title with Spain-based Girona, arrived at camp. This also came four days after the Sky waived forwards Leslie Robinson and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who were on training camp contracts.

Perhaps Millender’s superb effort on the court as a senior is what led the Chicago Sky to give her this opportunity. One of the most prolific scorers DePaul has ever seen, Millender climbed to second all-time in both 3-point field goals with 286 and 3-point attempts with 771 in her final season in Lincoln Park en route to scoring 1,392 career points.

After tying her career-high of 27 points in a home game on Nov. 17 versus Notre Dame, the 2018 NCAA Tournament Champions, Millender finished this season converting a team-high 89 3-pointers. She averaged 13.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and earned a career-high seven assists in the Big East Tournament semifinal versus Creighton.

Not to mention, Millender scored in double figures in 26 appearances and stayed healthy as she started all 34 games, moving her to No. 1 all-time in games played with 144. Despite the end result with the Sky not panning out in Millender’s favor, she learned a lot from the brief time spent practicing with the hometown team.

“It was a great experience overall,” Millender said. “I learned a lot from all the players and it just showed me what to expect if I go overseas and possibly go back to the WNBA and what I need to work on and just to improve and become a better player to play with those type of girls.”

The size of the other guards is one of the biggest differences that Millender pointed out between competing against WNBA talent and those at the collegiate level. One similar factor, however, Millender said, was the pace of play.

“The guards for me were much bigger than what I’m used to in the Big East and the regular season,” Millender said. “For example, Diamond [Deshields], she’s a 6-foot-2-inch guard with ball handling and shooting, so that was the big difference for me. But the play of the game, of course they’re stronger, but I feel like if you lift weights it’s going to be the same, but I would say the difference for me personally was handling ball screens.”

DePaul head coach Doug Bruno has nothing but high praise for Millender and the legacy she left at DePaul as an all-around student-athlete. Millender brought a combination of defense, shooting and communication, all of which are keys to success in DePaul’s renowned up-tempo playing style.

“She’s one of the best people to ever come through DePaul and I was thrilled that she got the opportunity to sign a training camp contract with the Sky because that means that somebody recognized how good she was,” he said. “She was a great defender, she was a great talker on defense, she was a great competitor, she could make a great 3-point shooter. So, it’s just a really special basketball player but also a really, really special human being, and so we’re going to miss Ashton.”

Junior forward Chante Stonewall emphasized that Millender was not only an encouraging presence on the court, but off the court as well, especially when it came to sisterhood.

“She will missed be skill wise, but also there as a friend and person who will be there to check up on you,” Stonewall said. “She’s been through a lot and I feel like we can never have a down day especially after her experience. So, she will definitely be missed in that aspect.”

Likewise, junior guard Kelly Campbell mentioned that some factors, such as Millender’s love for defense, competitive spirit and assertiveness, are things that distinguished Millender as a teammate.

“I think Ashton’s been a great leader for our team,” she said. “More of leading by example, but she was vocal when we needed her to be. I know she pushed us all very hard in practice, she was always someone who came with a lot of energy and really pushed her to be her best.”

Millender now plans to take her basketball talents overseas in France with hopes of playing in the WNBA one day. James Wade, head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky, told Millender that going overseas to play basketball is where she’d get better.

“I would like to go overseas,” Millender said. “It’s always a little scary in the back of your mind because it’s a new country, a new language. You really don’t know everybody, or nobody really probably speaks English, but I feel like it’s a life journey that’s going to teach you lessons. I would love to learn French or whatever language they speak wherever I go.”