The Liberty’s debut on the main court at Barclays Center is three weeks away — May 14 vs. the Indiana Fever — but on Sunday Joe Tsai’s team will begin their Brooklyn journey when they open training camp at their home arena.
A total of 19 players are on the camp roster, which is led by second year player Sabrina Ionescu and includes two stars acquired in the off-season, former Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard and former Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney. Of the 19, six won’t be on hand for the opening of camp, including Howard, Laney and 2019’s No. 2 pick Asia Durr. Durr was injured much of her first year. Last year, Durr was probably the pro athlete most affected by COVID-19. WNBA roster are limited to 12 players.
Ionescu, seen as a generational player, was limited to three games in last season’s “wubble” with a grade 3 ankle sprain, the most severe. In an interview with ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel last week, the Liberty guard said she feels like a rookie.
“I’ve never been removed from the game for this long,” Ionescu told ESPN during a Zoom interview Monday, “so it definitely just opened up my eyes and made me appreciate what I have when I have it.”
The Oregon product also said that her ankle injury, which required minor surgery, resulted in a “brutal” rehab that was hindered by the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, I wasn’t really trying to get in contact with a bunch of people, especially that I didn’t know where they had been,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk my health. So I kind of just stuck to my trainer and I kind of grinding away, getting all my skill work done, then finally integrating back into 5-on-5 once it was safe to do so.”
In addition to Ionescu, the camp roster includes seven returning players from last year’s team which finished 2-20, the league’s worst record; All-Rookie team selection Jazmine Jones, veteran guard Layshia Clarendon, veteran center Kiah Stokes, and second year players Joyner Holmes, Leaonna Odom, Kylee Shook and Jocelyn Willoughby.
The Liberty’s four draft picks, led by No. 6 pick and defensive ace Michaela Onyenwere out of UCLA, will be in camp as well.
Ionescu said that she’s excited to play in Brooklyn with all the new additions, particularly the veterans GM Jonathan Kolb acquired. Howard has won three WNBA titles with the Seattle Storm and Sami Whitcomb, acquired in the same trade, has two.
“I don’t think there’s really a ceiling for what we can accomplish,” Ionescu said.
“I know talking to them, they’re very excited and I think it says a lot about who they are as people and competitors because we did finish last. If you want to take two players that came from a championship team to come to the last-place team in the league, I think that says a lot about who they are, how competitive they are and how they view us and what they see in us.”
The Liberty press release didn’t identify which court will be used for camp, but it seems likely it will take place on the small practice court off Barclays’ entrance lobby. Barclays Center is also completing a new locker room for the Liberty. New York will begin its preseason schedule on May 3, when the team travels to Connecticut to scrimmage the Sun.
The Liberty will play a 34-game schedule with all home games played in Brooklyn. Tsai and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, bought the team in 2019 from James Dolan and MSG for a reported $10 to $14 million, promising to bring the team back to New York after two seasons in White Plains and before that, three seasons in Newark.
- New York Liberty Announce 2021 Training Camp Roster - New York Liberty
- After atypical rookie season that ended in injury, Sabrina Ionescu excited to finally play in Liberty’s new home of Brooklyn - Michelle Voepel - ESPN