CHICAGO — The training wheels are off for Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese.

Angel Reese Gets New Jersey No. 5, Kamilla Cardoso Keeps No. 10

Expectations already were high when the rookie duo landed in Chicago. And after promising debuts, Reese and Cardoso took the next step this week.

Cardoso is no longer under a minutes restriction after missing the first six games because of a right shoulder injury. And with starting center Elizabeth Williams sidelined indefinitely with a meniscus injury in her right knee, both rookies have been elevated into the starting lineup — and are taking the first steps to lay a foundation for a Sky team built around them.

“I feel like we’re meeting the expectations,” Cardoso said. “The ceiling is high and we want to get better every day, but we’re right there. We’re doing our best.”

A nine-year veteran center, Williams is a crucial player for the Sky, who already field one of the youngest teams in the WNBA. Without Williams, the remaining 11 players on the roster average 3.4 years of experience. And she served as a safeguard for both rookies in the frontcourt, modeling defensive consistency while mentoring Cardoso and Reese in their new roles.

Williams, 30, had not undergone surgery as of Wednesday, and her recovery could stretch at least six weeks. Coach Teresa Weatherspoon made it clear before Wednesday’s game that as both rookies step into bigger roles, Weatherspoon doesn’t want them to feel the pressure to fill Williams’ shoes.

“You have to bring your own shoes,” Weatherspoon said. “We can’t give them that mindset. Everybody else will have to fill in with what Elizabeth has brought to this team. It’s not going to take one person and we’re not going to put that responsibility on one person. We want everybody to bring who they are.”

Added Cardoso: “We’ve been playing against each other for so long. Now we finally got the opportunity to play together and I feel like we’re going to do great things together. Her game has translated very well from college to the WNBA, and I’m just so proud of her and proud of us and all the things we’re going to be able to do together.”

Cardoso and Reese were eager to step into the heightened roles — and the first month of the season proved they are ready for the moment.

Reese is the first player from the 2024 draft class to reach both 100 points and 100 rebounds, a feat she accomplished in 11 games. Cardoso logged three blocks and nine rebounds Wednesday in her first game without a minutes restriction. And even while they experienced “welcome to the WNBA” moments, Cardoso and Reese have answered in kind, swatting shots by All-Stars such as DeWanna Bonner and going toe-to-toe in the paint with former MVPs such as Jonquel Jones.

Still, their focus remains rooted in areas of improvement. Reese has been doggedly focused on improving her defensive activity and shooting efficiency around the rim. Despite dominating the paint on defense, Cardoso emphasized frustration with her missed layups after going 3 for 7 in Wednesday’s 83-75 loss to the Connecticut Sun.

It’s a crucial balancing act for Weatherspoon and her staff: encouraging both rookies through a critical development period without overwhelming them with lofty expectations.

“Obviously I’m antsy because I want to get it done now, but it relieves a lot of pressure,” Reese said. “Having your coaches believe in you and tell you all the time like ‘You’re doing fine, you’re doing great’ — even when I feel like I’m not — it gives me a lot of confidence.”

This is a season of growth for the Sky. They have struggled to compete offensively, starting June with a 1-4 skid as they hold on to the No. 8 spot in the standings. The loss of Williams likely will complicate issues as the Sky attempt to make the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.

But unlike last year, the Sky have a clear goal outside the standings: developing Reese and Cardoso into franchise players. Both have embraced the dynamic, even amid the frustration of losses.

“I love Chicago,” Reese said. “There’s no better place to be than here, especially with a coach who loves you, appreciates you on and off the court and admires everything.

“It’s the grind — she works out with us every day. So I love being able to be here but also just being able to be within a program and an organization that really, really loves both of us.”