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Liberty make it official, announce signing of Sky’s Stef Dolson

Chicago Sky Championship Parade Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

Stefanie Dolson, the starting center on the 2021 WNBA champion Chicago Sky, has officially signed with the New York Liberty, their first big signing in free agency.

Dolson was one of the players linked to the Liberty. They made a bold move to sign Breanna Stewart and/or Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm but both chose to stay, Stewart on a one-year supermax deal that give Liberty fans some hope that they’ll be welcoming “Stewie” to Brooklyn a year from now. Loyd signed a two year deal to stay with the Storm. The Liberty are also waiting on one of their own free agents, Rebecca Allen, a veteran with a variety of WNBA talents.

Still, the 6’5” Dolson’s signing, first reported earlier in the week, is a big plus (pun intended) for Joe and Clara Wu Tsai’s plan to upgrade the Liberty roster, particularly up front. It’s also a homecoming for the Port Jervis, N.Y. native.

Dolson, 30, is a multi-talented big. She averaged 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per contest, with shooting splits of 49/40/95. In addition to winning the WNBA championship with Chicago last summer, she also earned the first gold medal in Olympic 3×3 basketball history last summer in Tokyo while representing Team USA, making her the only woman to win both an Olympic gold and a WNBA ring in 2021.

“Playing in New York is a dream come true,” said Dolson, a UConn product as well as a New York native. “It feels like now is the perfect time in my career to join the Liberty organization as we set our sights on becoming perennial contenders.” Dolson added, “Knowing that I’ll have the support of my family and friends at Barclays Center makes this all the more special.”

Here’s some highlights posted by the Liberty Thursday morning...

“Stef is the definition of New York tough,” said Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her back to her home state as an integral piece of the Liberty’s future success. She is an incredibly talented player, and her experience, toughness and size will only add to our front court.”

As Jackie Powell of The Next wrote this week, the Liberty went all out to get Dolson.

The Liberty made Dolson feel valued during her visit to Brooklyn, putting her up in a five-star hotel along the Brooklyn waterfront. Successful recruiter Betnijah Laney showed her around and the two even hung out with [actor] Anthony Ramos at Barclays Center. As a stan of Hamilton The Musical, Dolson appeared to enjoy herself in New York.

Here’s some video of the recruiting visit which Dolson told reporters had affected her...

Powell also noted that Dolson will add something the Liberty have lacked, paint scoring.

The Liberty will now await word from Allen, an athletic and defensively oriented 6’2” Australian. No word on other Liberty targets in free agency which began two days ago.

The presser

2021 Chicago Sky Championship Parade Photo by Kena Krutsinger/NBAE via Getty Images

On Thursday evening, the team held an introductory press conference for Dolson as she took questions from the media alongside team General Manager, Jonathan Kolb, and new head coach, Sandy Brondello. Here are some key takeaways:

  • On what sealed the deal for her to come to New York

“I think what sealed the deal for me was probably just the team. The players, looking at the roster, feeling like I could really fit in and contribute to this team, and play the role that I’ve always wanted to play of being that leader and being that vet, and just doing the things that I’m good at. So, it was everything combined, but I think the thing that really just put it over was talking to Betnijah [Laney] and hearing how I would fit in to playing for them.”

  • On how Dolson would affect the culture that Brondello wants to build

Brondello: “I think she’s a great fit. You’ve got an experienced post player who I think gets better and better, could come in to a team and lead, but play really valuable minutes for us in a really big role as a big Five, anchoring the defense. I’ve talked about that, but it’s her screening, her IQ, her passing ability, her scoring. She can score inside and out and that’s what we need to be a winning basketball team. You need to have a good balance of inside-outside attack, and she brings that to us. We targeted Stef early. We thought that this would be a great fit...”

  • On how she can help Brondello’s system maintain its success

“[Brondello] had some big stars, and yet they still ran a lot of offenses, were very disciplined in what they ran, and I saw them execute a lot... I’m excited to play for her because it seems like both offensively and defensively, she knows what she’s doing. She is an incredible coach, way more experienced than me, so I’m just excited to learn from her and to play for her...”

  • On what Dolson brings to this young Liberty team

“I can bring that inside presence to them, but Betnijah being the player that she is, Sabrina [Ionescu] having the year that she had, and I’m looking forward to seeing the potential of [Natasha Howard], since she was injured most of the time last year. Overall, I think it’s a really well rounded roster, a lot of, like Coach Sandy said, just that core group, that potential that we have to just grow together, and get even better.”

  • On being a leader for younger players

“It’s something that I love, honestly. It’s a role that I embrace. I enjoy, in a way, “teaching.” I enjoy taking care of my teammates, making sure that everyone’s having fun and enjoying themselves because at the end of the day, we are playing a game. It is really important to me to have a role like that. I’ve been missing that the last few years, so I’m excited for that chance to be myself and be that role of “vet,” in a way.”

  • On the assistant coaching hires and draft prospects

Brondello: “We’re almost close. We’re finalizing the staff that’s gonna play out, and hopefully we’ll have some more information next week

Kolb: “On draft prospects, let’s check back in April.”

  • On what she can take from the 3x3 play to the 2022 season

“I think the 3x3 showed to everyone that I’m capable of playing really good defense on anyone on the court, but then also showing my versatility offensively and being able to showcase that stuff because it’s only three players on the court. I think it was just proving it to myself and proving it to other people. I’m happy that I got that experience because it has helped me grow a lot.”

  • On where she can make the biggest contribution

“I hope everywhere. I think I do a few things pretty well so I hope I can make the biggest contribution in all those things; whether it’s playing good defense, post defense, whether it’s setting really good screens. [The Liberty] had probably the most threes I’ve ever seen a team shoot and I’m hoping to be able to bring my screens to them to get them even more shots, to make things easier for them. I think that’s the biggest reason why I like screening is because it makes other people’s jobs easier. I think I’m excited to bring those little things that I do on the court and then the same things off the court, making sure there’s a good culture, that the team is getting along and all those things that I think I can bring.

  • On the organizational strategy in building the roster

Kolb: “We’ve got a couple more things in house we need to do in free agency and then it’s gonna be all eyes on the Draft and really trying to get that pick right. I think we’ve been pretty successful the past few years in that regard and we’re gonna hope to continue that on.”

  • On if there has been any guidance from the Mayor’s Office or Health Department on if there will be changes to the New York City COVID protocols

Kolb: “No news yet and usually that’ll come also from the league so I know they’re working really hard on that and we should hopefully have information soon.”

  • On the injury recoveries for Laney and Jocelyn Willoughby

Kolb: “They’re doing really well. [Laney’s] been in the gym all the time and we just saw Jocelyn as well. Really, really happy for Jocelyn. Obviously that was jut such a blow to her and to us last year when [her Achilles injury] happened; I think it was four minutes into our first scrimmage and for her to battle back, you know what a mentally tough person she is. She handled it in stride but to see her back on the court progressing is really heartwarming. Both are doing really well and should be ready to roll come April.

  • On re-signing Rebecca Allen and Marine Johannes’ potential interest in returning to NY

Kolb: “Should have some news on [Allen] very soon for you and I would say it’s a very high priority. And Marine Johannes, still talking but I think it’s something that both sides have a lot of interest there so I think that over the next few weeks we’ll have more information, hopefully in a positive direction.”

  • On where she focused her improvement on this offseason

“I think for me, it’s the post. I think the last couple of years, with the rosters that I’ve been on, I’ve been moreso a pick and pop player. Last year, it depended on who I was out on the court with, but a lot of times it was the only one setting the screens and being on the perimeter. I’m moreso looking forward to bringing my post presence there and I’ve been working on that a lot this offseason, and I will continue to do that over the next few months.”

  • On how she will use her platform in a major market like NYC

“Honestly, that was something that intrigued me a lot about New York, too, is the market. Not only the market but the team. The marketing of the team is incredible to me... You see the New York Liberty all over the place in Brooklyn. That’s incredible for me and to see how much they’ve used their voices within the community and within the market is something that not a lot of teams are doing and they have been. To see them trailblazing that is important to me because of how much we’ve done in the Bubble and how important it is to just use our voices for good. So, I’m excited to be a part of that market and have the capability of using it to use my voice more, speak out about anything that hits home to me.”

Around the W

2021 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the league announced a new round of funding to help with capitalization of the 12-team circuit. Among the investors who’ve contributed to the $75 million pool are Joe and Clara Wu Tsai and a host of well-known billionaires, celebrities and corporations including Nike; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs; NBA legends Pau Gasol and Baron Davis; Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Inc., and his wife, Susan; NBA. and WNBA. team owners, and former WNBA star Swin Cash, now vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans.

As the Times noted, the league is owned 50 percent by the NBA and 50 percent by the 12 team owners. The new investments are needed to help with a number of issues, including transportation, a big issue for the Tsais, and even possible expansion.

*A previous version of this story identified Jonathan Kolb as the team CEO. Kolb is the General Manager. Keia Clarke is the team CEO.