The Liberty brought their new coach to their new arena Wednesday to signal that the team’s ownership, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, is committed to pushing the Liberty brand —and basketball— into the forefront of the WNBA.
Walt Hopkins, the new head coach, said that moving from an assistant with the Minnesota Lynx, one of the league’s top franchises, to New York was bittersweet, but the promise of New York was too much to pass on.
”The ownership, the No. 1 pick, the new arena, the move to Brooklyn, all of it are factors,” Hopkins, 34, said at his Barclays Center news conference. ”Had this team been in Westchester with this ownership, I still would have jumped at it. Those are icing on the cake. Things that are really nice, I didn’t need them to help make the decision; it was more about the people.”
Tsai bought the team from James Dolan and MSG a year ago, then after buying the Nets and Barclays Center, announced he was moving his WNBA club from their temporary venue at the 90-year-old Westchester County Center to Brooklyn.
As Jonathan Kolb, the team’s GM, said, Barclays automatically becomes the best arena in the 12-team league (just as Nassau Coliseum is the best arena in the G League.)
“It’s not a coincidence that this press conference in taking place in our new home, which is this best building in the WNBA and it’s a home that our fans and our players and certainly our coaching staff are very much going to enjoy this coming season,” said Kolb who was Tsai’s first hire.
Kolb was effusive in his praise of Hopkins who has a reputation as a solid development coach even if he doesn’t have head coaching experience.
“For those who don’t know, Walt’s a genius. He won’t admit he’s a genius because he has this humble confidence about him,”’ Kolb said. ”He’s a person of character. He’s a person of high basketball intellect. He’s an elite-level communicator.”
For his part, Hopkins said he intends to “give everyone agency to do what they do best.”
Hopkins biggest task may be choosing and integrating the WNBA Draft’s overall No. 1 pick into the Liberty. WNBA draftniks are virtually unanimous in believing that the Liberty will take Sabrina Ionescu, the Oregon point guard who regularly racks up triple doubles. He’ll also be working with Tina Charles, one of the league’s iconic figures who’s a former MVP and seven-time all-star. Hopkins said he’d like to see the 6’3” Charles take more 3-pointers
“We need to get it right, just like this coaching search,” Kolb said. “We’ll be doing our homework there. We’re excited about the possibilities. Having the No. 1 pick is a huge blessing and we’re excited to get to work.”
Originally from Sparks, Nevada, Hopkins received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada-Reno. He also holds master’s degrees from Harvard and UC Berkeley, where his studies focused primarily on applying findings from Social, Developmental and Educational Psychology to coaching settings.
Hopkins hiring did re-engender an issue the lack of black women coaches in the league. As Swish Appeal, our WNBA sister site on SB Nation, noted, “where are the black coaches?”
- WNBA’s Liberty hires Lynx assistant Walt Hopkins as head coach - Doug Feinberg - AP
- New York Liberty Announce Hiring Of Walt Hopkins As Head Coach - WNBA
- Walt Hopkins is the New York Liberty’s choice to fill head coaching vacancy - Zachary Ward - Swish Appeal