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Liberty go big again in WNBA Draft, taking Oregon center Nyara Sabally at No. 5

WNBA Draft 2022 Photo by Alex Nahorniak-Svenski/NBAE via Getty Images

Draft Day is always a special day for athletes. It’s the next step in their journey as they enter the pros, learn more about the game and themselves as they enter a new environment.

For the New York Liberty, Monday’s Draft was an opportunity to build upon the success they had in 2021. After a surprise first half, the team floundered following the All Star / Olympic break and they struggled to the finish line as some of their weaknesses were amplified in the season’s waning days. Despite their struggles at the end, the team gave fans some hope with an inspired playoff appearance against the Phoenix Mercury and entered the 2022 WNBA Draft with the fifth overall pick.

One of those weaknesses was in the front court. Last season, the Liberty struggled on the glass as they were tenth (out of 12) in the WNBA in rebounding. With the signing of 6’5’ Stefanie Dolson of the Chicago Sky in free agency and now the Draft, the Liberty has made a commitment to being more effective in the post and on the boards. They drafted three bigs, all of them 6’3” or taller, including at least one who they see as someone who could help immediately.

New York used its first rounder, the No. 5 overall pick, to take Nyara Sabolly, Oregon’s 6’5” center who despite recurring knee issues early in her career was seen as a player they couldn’t pass up, In addition to helping fill out the top of the Liberty’s roster, Sabally will be reuniting with Sabrina Ionescu, a former Oregon teammate. (Sabally’s sister, Satou, also played for the Oregon Ducks. She is now with the Dallas Wings.)

Following the announcement, Nyara got a chance to talk with ESPN’s Holly Rowe...

Sabally was asked in a post-draft press conference about how she would fit in on her new team and said:

I mean, just using my strength inside and the power I bring inside, and just helping wherever I can, getting those boards, defending. But obviously New York just picked up a great post player that I’m excited to learn from. She seems like a sweetheart. I haven’t had the chance to talk to her. I’ve only heard good things about her, and I’m super excited to have such a great role model at that position in front of me.

When she announced her decision to enter the WNBA, Sabally wrote in The Player’s Tribune about her time at the University of Oregon and what it taught her:

My time at this school has taught me so many things — including so many things about myself. I’ve learned that I can persevere through anything. I’ve learned that you are in control of your success and your happiness, no matter what is thrown in your way. And I’ve learned that getting to do what you love is a gift. Basketball is something to enjoy.

Jonathan Kolb, the Liberty GM, spoke about her promise.

“We feel Nyara is a top-end talent in this class,” Kolb said in a release. “Her combination of size, speed, agility and touch is rare. We’re confident that once healthy, she will reach her incredibly high ceiling and have a real opportunity to develop into a cornerstone frontcourt player in the WNBA.”

Similarly, Sandy Brondello, the Liberty’s head coach who has always had a top-notch big on her teams, said she believes in Sabally’s potential.

“Nyara is obviously a post player with huge potential to compliment the great team that we have,” Brondello said in a release. “Her skillset is something that we feel will only add to the pieces that we have here in New York.”

In the second round, the Liberty went big again, taking Lorena Cabaj of Georgia Tech, a 6’4” forward who’s seen as a defensive stopper and facilitator at the next level.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 09 Womens - UConn at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Libs traded for Cubaj, who had been taken by the Seattle Storm at No. 18, New York sending a 2023 second round draft pick to Seattle.

Of the pick, Brondello, said: “Cubaj is a player who we have admired for a few years. Her relentlessness and the pride on defensive side of the ball will help us get to where we want to play defensively.”

An native of Italy, Cubaj led the ACC in rebounding all season and ranked consistently in the top-20 nationally in rebounds per game. In December, Cubaj broke the Georgia Tech women’s basketball all-time record for career rebounds. She is a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

“Lorela was a player who we were evaluating at No. 5, so trading for an additional pick became a priority of ours as the draft progressed,” explained Kolb. “She embodies the attributes and intangibles we are looking to add to our young core, and she’ll have the opportunity to develop alongside several WNBA Champions in our frontcourt.”

Nigeria v Mali - FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup Qualifying Tournament Photo by Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images

And to close out their Draft night, the Libs drafted 6’3” Sika Kone with the 29th overall pick. Prior to the draft, the 19-year-old Kone mentioned that she looked up to Candace Parker and wants to be like her in the future.

The Dallas Wings’ Draft Hangar has a good rundown of Kone, writing:

Currently, Kone is an extremely athletic player who can find success on both sides of the floor. Her length and athleticism will make her a dangerous defender who is comfortable switching but is best defending smaller centers or forwards. She is probably not going to have a huge impact right away, but a team who has a sport for her to grow will get a true athlete and maybe a future WNBA star.

In a post draft interview with Howard Megdal and Jackie Powell of the Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast, Kolb, said that Kone will be staying overseas a while as she continues to grow and develop her game.

Kolb expanded on that and spoke about the development process, saying:

“I think that’s something we value, and just seeing the upside of these players. While roster spots are tight, having the ability to have players grow from afar can only help down the line.”

Overall, both Kolb and Brondello said they were more than happy with what they accomplished, focusing mainly on Sabally.

“We had a great draft tonight,” said Brondello. “Our three selections were all players who we had actually discussed targeting within the first round. Nyara is obviously a post player with huge potential to compliment the great team that we have. Her skillset is something that we feel will only add to the pieces that we have here in New York.”

Joe Tsai apparently agreed...

The New York Liberty’s training camp opens Sunday. Tip-off for the home opener at Barclays Center will be on May 7 at 6:00 p.m. ET against the Connecticut Sun on ESPN.