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Natasha Howard, Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney talk health and more at Liberty training camp

Los Angeles Sparks v New York Liberty Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

With training camp officially open, the New York Liberty are working to get comfortable and ready for Opening Night on May 7 against the Connecticut Sun at Barclays Center. On Tuesday, the team’s big stars, Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu, and Natasha Howard had a media availability and covered some important topics. Here are some highlights:

  • Howard on her new Liberty teammate and former Xinjiang Magic Deer teammate, the 6’10” Han Xu:

“Me and her getting that chemistry back again is amazing. Also having a 6’6 center, I don’t have to do all the heavy, heavy lifting down there. Seeing her grow over the years and also her being more physical, I’m happy she’s a part of our team.”

  • Howard on how playing an abbreviated season in Russia will help her this season with the Liberty:

“I’m happy that I came home early to get the rest that I needed and also to start back training again. Overseas is a really a toll on anybody’s body, coming back from overseas to the WNBA. I’m happy that I had that month, month and a half break that I had and also getting my body right for this upcoming season to prevent another injury. So I’m happy that I had the time to do what I needed to do.

  • Ionescu on her offseason and how this year’s training camp is different from 2021

“This offseason really consisted of eight months of rehab and training. That’s literally what I did from since the season ended to right now, so it’s just been a lot of getting my body healthy, getting my ankle healthy from the season that just happened. I’m really excited, I feel really good and I’m really excited to actually have training camp. Last year I wasn’t really able to participate in training camp at all and just got thrown into games, and so I’m happy to continue to build off of last year, but be better of course.”

  • Laney on her health following offseason knee surgery:

“I’m good, I’m 100 percent out there, participating in everything, so I’m feeling good.

  • Laney on how the roster continuity will help them become a better defensive team under new head coach Sandy Brondello:

“I think us building off of the continuity that we had last year, so we’re understanding each other’s tendencies and just being able to help out more. And having the majority of the people back right now helps with that, helps as the coaches try to implement their defensive schemes. So I’m feeling really good about where we’ll be defensively.”

  • Ionescu on the biggest lesson she learned from her 2021 season:

“Don’t play if you’re not healthy. That’s probably the main thing that I’ve learned. It’s a long game, and it was my second year. Thank God that I didn’t get more injured or get a different injury, but sometimes playing through it isn’t always the right way. And so that’s definitely something that I learned is just speak up, be confident in your decision if you do or don’t think that you’re able to go at 100 percent.”

  • Ionescu on the new up tempo style under Sandy Brondello

“I think we’re really gonna embrace everything. Being able to score inside, score outside, not really being a one dimensional team, but if someone’s gonna take them, we’re always gonna be able to counter and do it at an elite level. We’re figuring out what works for us. Obviously, we have some new pieces and it’s us figuring out how we’re gonna integrate them and how we’re gonna be able to continue to play at a high level. [Brondello] is holding us to that standard, the entire coaching staff is and so it’s really exciting to see what we’ve done in day three and how much further we have to go throughout the entire season.”

2020 New York Liberty Media Day Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
  • Laney on how the returning Jocelyn Willoughby will help the team

She’s looked good. She’s coming back, her Achilles feels really good. She’s a strong guard, she’s someone that plays under control … She’s hungry, she’s bringing that to training camp so we’re excited to have her back along with everyone else and we’re just looking forward to seeing what we’ll all be able to do together.”

Ionescu also gave an interview earlier this week to a local TV station in Oregon where she played college ball. In it, she talked about how this is the first time since she sprained her ankle in August 2020 that she feels fully recovered.

“I wasn’t playing at 100%,” said Ionescu. “So that obviously was really hard physically, but also mentally just trying to deal with the pain and not performing to the standards that I know I can and should be performing at.”

“It definitely wasn’t your typical ankle sprain,” Ionescu added.

In media sessions over the winter, Coach Brondello has mentioned that she wants the offense to attack the paint more than in previous seasons, and playing at a faster pace will help accomplish that goal. The Liberty were 10th in fastbreak points and 11th in points in the paint last season, and if they’re able to attack the basket more, it’ll get the defense scrambling, which could in turn free up a lot more open three point attempts for Rebecca Allen, Sami Whitcomb, etc.

But ultimately, health will be the determining factor of the team’s success in 2022. The Libs’ big three each dealt with their respective injuries in 2021, and if they’re all healthy along with the return of players like Willoughby and Asia Durr, they’ll be able to build upon the foundation they’ve established in the prior two seasons and climb new heights with Brondello running the show.