When you're at the head of the table, everyone's trying to get what you have. They see you, your level of excellence, and accomplishments as something to strive to and eventually have for themselves. Over time, the competition gets better and the opponents get tougher. Dynasties end eventually, but one dynasty has managed to reload on the fly and plans to stay on top of the mountain.
The United States Women's National Team is the most successful institution in American sports. They have established a level of consistency and excellence other national teams in the USA and around the world try to aspire to. As the team enters its next generation without Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, new superstars like A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart are here to keep the USA on top of the basketball world. They won their fourth consecutive World Cup after defeating a tough China team on Saturday afternoon (2 a.m. ET for us!) in the World Cup final in Australia. It was an all around effort for the United States in the World Cup, and as they move into their next generation, some members of the New York Liberty hope to continue the USA’s run of excellence.
Betnijah Laney didn't get to play most of the season for the Liberty due to a knee injury. Sandy Brondello called her the toughest player on the team, and her on court absence was felt throughout the year. Laney returned at the beginning of August and was one of the engines that drove the club to the playoffs. In this tournament, she was part of a second unit that applied tons of pressure on opposing guards and played intense, tight defense. The USA led all teams in steals and used that to start their transition attack as they got tons of easy baskets and lived in the paint. Seeing Laney’s return to form in this tournament should have Liberty fans even more excited for 2023. She can take on a lot of responsibilities and always ensures her teammates are in the right position and doing everything they can to win. Having Bee back to her All Star level of play would take a good Liberty team and turn them into a great Liberty team that can go on a deep playoff run.
Like Laney, Sabrina Ionescu also made her World Cup debut. Due to the USA’s incredible guard depth, somebody was going to have to be at the end of the rotation and as the youngest guard (second youngest overall behind Shakira Austin), Sab was it. Even with the lack of minutes, when Ionescu was on the court, she kept the offense humming and made some nice assists while she was on the court.
Her friend, basketball legend and FIBA Ambassador, Pau Gasol, spoke about Ionescu and some advice he gave her:
Finally, you see her pull through and being able to play her game and making the USA team. I was talking to her when she was in training camp, she wasn’t quite sure in the end if she was going to make the team, I just told her ‘You’re going to make it, you’re going to make it’. I was just trying to share that confidence and determination that Kobe would have shared with her, knowing him.”
“I’m just excited for her. I think she’s a very unique talent, I think she’s a great girl, I think she has a lot ahead of her, and I’m going to try to be there for her along the way, helping her with whatever she needs help with.
There was some discussion about her lack of minutes, but I wouldn’t worry about it. Being around great players will help sharpen her skills and push her to take her game to higher heights. 2022 was her first fully healthy season as a pro and she will be taking her success into the offseason. Her continued growth will power the Liberty into 2023 and beyond.
Liberty fans love Han Xu, and this tournament was her coming out party for the rest of the basketball world. Han was sensational for the Chinese national team and had the best stretch of play in her young career over these eight games. Among all players, she was:
- second in blocks (1.8 per game)
- second in field goal percentage (52.5 percent)
- fifth in rebounds (8.4 per game) (Liberty 2022 draft pick, Sika Kone led all players with 11.8 per game)
- 15th in scoring (12.4 points a game)
Han does not start on the team as Li Yueru opens the game for China. When Han did check in, her rim protection and soft touch made her impossible to handle. She wowed fans and opponents alike, and got some love from one of the game’s greatest bigs:
Pau’s stamp of approval @hanxu_521 getting all the flowers she deserves from @paugasol after her historic performance #FIBAWWC pic.twitter.com/G4FALgtQ9T— FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWWC) September 30, 2022
Han’s excellence was also recognized by FIBA as she was named to the All Star Five! Joining Han on the team were Stewart and Wilson from the USA, Stephanie Talbot from Australia, and Bridget Carleton of Canada. It was a well deserved honor for Han and a sign of her continued growth and development.
For Han, 2023 figures to be another huge step forward. She’s expressed interest in returning to the Liberty, and New York would welcome her back with open arms. These games showed that Han can step into a larger role and succeed in high stakes moments. She struggled with physicality in the WNBA last season, and that’s a part of her game she’ll need to continue developing. Han is still only 22 years old and has limitless amounts of potential.
The Liberty were also well represented in the bronze medal game as Sami Whitcomb played for Australia (Rebecca Allen missed the game due to a rib injury) with Sandy Brondello and her husband, Olaf Lange, working on the coaching staff. Australia faced Canada and dominated as they won by 30 points to secure bronze.
The big story of the evening was the final game on the Australian national team for basketball Hall of Famer, Lauren Jackson. LJ closed her international career as she walked off in style with 30 points and seven rebounds.
GOAT gonna GOAT— FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWWC) October 1, 2022
Lauren Jackson signed off her international career in style with a VINTAGE performance and a bronze medal in front of her home fans #FIBAWWC x @TCL_Global pic.twitter.com/eq5T9hrokZ
What a way to finish a glorious international career!
Allen’s ranginess and versatility were on full display in the tournament prior to her rib and ankle injuries. Bec had a rough 2022 as injuries slowed her down, but her ability to defend various positions, knock down threes, and finish at the rim make her an integral part of New York’s plans. When she is playing well, she unlocks a bevy of options for the team and her presence will have a large impact on the Liberty’s plans.
Whitcomb was the team’s floor general throughout the tournament and helped handle playmaking duties alongside Talbot for her club. Brondello and the Opals have been working to reestablish themselves without former star Liz Cambage and are off to a good start. It pays to have experience on the court and in the coaches’ box and as Australia moves into their own new era, having vets like Whitcomb and Brondello leading them will make for a smooth transition.
A family affair
Pretty good outing for @nyliberty at #FIBAWWC— Nets Republic (@NetsRepublic) October 1, 2022
Here are the medal count:
Han Xu 韩旭
@brondellosandy IG pic.twitter.com/1SabseWRH3
The Liberty were well represented in Australia and they’re coming home with lots of hardware. The Libs governor took note...
Counting medals Congrats to Team USA, Team China and Team Australia ❤️ @nyliberty @FIBAWWC https://t.co/H5GIFDCoL5— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) October 1, 2022
The games were an opportunity to see the full reach of the roster a they had players from five different countries competing in the games. Jackie Powell of The Next x Bleacher Report calls the team the WNBA’s version of the United Nations and it will be on even more display when players like Sika Kone (Mali) and Nyara Sabally (Germany) debut, not to mention the magnificent Marine Johannes (France) when she’s back on the court.
Sami Whitcomb spoke about the international flair of the Liberty and said:
“That’s one of my favorite parts about the New York team, we are so international and we’ve got such great talent from all over the world. I think that represents our fan base as well. It’s really amazing to come here and still get to see your teammates.”
As the team continues making Brooklyn home, having players that connect with fans here and abroad will make them an even more fun team to watch. It makes for a fun, welcoming environment that makes room for everyone and allows everyone to be the best versions of themselves. We love to see it!