It’s a wonderful time of year! The WNBA season is right around the corner and as we move closer to Opening Day, teams are feeling good and optimistic. In our neck of the woods, the New York Liberty celebrated the occasion by hosting Media Day at Barclays Center Thursday.
For the Liberty, 2021 was a year of progress, but they left a lot on the table. The team improved on its’ win total, but slumped after the Olympic break and snuck into the postseason on the last day of the season.
The day began with Liberty General Manager, Jonathan Kolb, providing gathered media members a tour of the Liberty locker room. Afterwards, team CEO, Keia Clarke, sat down for a conversation with Michael Grady of the YES Network.
New head coach, Sandy Brondello, opened the media availability portion of the day. “I don’t want to put a limit on what we can do because you’re adding pressure to a team that is still new and still learning. If we can come and give our best performance each and every game, I think that hopefully we can surprise a lot of people.”
She also hit on a few statistical keys that will be essential to the Liberty’s success this year:
- points in the paint
- free throw rate
- turnover rate
- assists to field goals made
In the practice session the media attended, the guards on the team made a point to feature the returning Han Xu, the WNBA’s tallest player at 6’10”. Xu showed deft touch at the rim and now that she is back with the Liberty, she will look to provide some interior presence coming off of the bench.
Xu hasn’t played much basketball since she was with the Liberty in 2019, but she’s looked good in camp and will be one of the backup centers to new starting center, Stefanie Dolson. In her media availability, Xu (via her translator, Cindy Chen) spoke about her goals in camp and her hopes for this season:
“In the past few years, she hasn’t played a lot of games, but she’s trying to practice, doing hard work everyday. Specifically, her shooting skills and her defensive skills to make her a better player overall.”
and, via Myles Ehrlich of Nets Republic:
“Even though I’m really young, I’m willing to take the initiative to do everything I can to contribute to winning more games. I’m here to learn and to grow.”
Having Xu (who grew an inch since last in New York) gives Liberty ball handlers an option to dump the ball down into in the low post.
Health was one of the big themes of the day. Sabrina Ionescu has been bothered by injuries in her two seasons, but says she is now 100 percent. She spoke of her progress.
“I think the goal is to get better every single practice, and I know personally having a long offseason to get healthy, that was my goal to get healthy and to get better. It’s really nice to have all of us come together. Obviously, our expectations and our goals are set higher than what we accomplished last year and so, that’s the standard coming into camp. We knew what we had accomplished but we know that there’s a lot more to do and that there’s a lot more we can continue to achieve.”
Health has been a theme for Ionescu as well as Betnijah Laney, who is also recovering from injuries that affected her 2021 campaigns.
It wasn’t all rehab for Laney In the offseason. She served as a brand ambassador for the WNBA as she was able to rep the W at Brooklyn Nets games, community events where she got to work with young children across New York City, and enter into new spaces where she expanded her horizons.
With this being the Liberty’s second season at Barclays Center, she is becoming a local hero and having a star like Laney that’s highly visible and often surrounded by the fans will help drive even more interest to the team as they make a playoff push the franchise hopes.
One person who was shouted out all day was Jocelyn Willoughby. Willoughby missed all of 2021 after tearing her Achilles in a scrimmage against the Connecticut Sun just before the 2021 season. Brondello spoke about her return, saying:
“I’ve been really, really happy with the way she’s come back from a serious. She was good, she was probably even better than I thought she was. I had her guarding the point guards. Her versatility will be strong for us even though, coming back from an injury, I made her focus on playing a perimeter spot. It’s not to say she won’t go to the post, but when you haven’t played in a while, you don’t wanna overload them. You just want them to play. I think she’s out there playing with a lot of confidence, and we’ll keep growing her without too many expectations. We just want her to go out there, play hard and do her best every single day.”
NetsDaily asked Willoughby and Asia Durr (AD), how their teammates have helped them as they’ve returned to the court after extended absences. AD went first and said:
Willoughby piggybacked on that adding:
“I think one of the really beneficial things about our teammates are that a lot of them have been through different types of set backs and comebacks on their own so they also have a little understanding of what the process and some of the supports that you’ll need in terms of the confidence boost, talking through plays, and a big emphasis on communication. From that standpoint, they’ve been really good and understanding and just reassuring because as we get back into the flow, they’ve been really supportive of that.”
The Liberty were scheduled to play a preseason game against the Washington Mystics on Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center, but that’s been changed to an intrasquad game. The team didn’t bring many players into training camp this year as Brondello and the new coaching staff wanted to build chemistry among the players that would be here all season long (with Rebecca Allen and possibly Marine Johannes joining later in the year), so it’s not surprising they decided to keep things in-house.
As we draw closer to the grand opening on May 7 vs. the Sun, the Liberty and Liberty fans have a lot to be excited for. The team improved over the offseason and come into this campaign a lot healthier than in years past. With the world opening back up, things should be as close to “normal” going forward. Brondello, a veteran of the Australian national team, favors an exciting, fast-paced game and with good health and good luck, the Liberty should be able to do what they haven’t done in a few years; win.
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