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Betnijah Laney and Kayla Thornton talk defense, culture, and more at Liberty practice

New York Liberty v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA is back and we are officially on the road to Opening Day. For the New York Liberty, training camp has begun and the team is preparing for what promises to be a memorable 2023 season.

On Monday, the team held its first practice that included media availability. Reporters got to observe the team, talk with players, and see how the new roster is starting to build chemistry

In a Zoom media availability, Betnijah Laney was asked about what advice she’d give to the new players on the team and what the team has built so far. Here’s what she said:

“I think it’s so natural for everybody. I think that everybody that we’ve added, they fit right into our culture and what it means to be on the New York Liberty. We play with a lot of grit, for one. We’re tough, we’re hard working, we play together. So I think that, everybody coming in, we just really complement each other really well. So it’s not a whole lot that we have to say or that we have to teach them because they pretty much have been fitting right in. And now it’s about just learning each other, building the chemistry, and getting ready for the season.”

The Liberty’s grit is one of their defining characteristics. It helped them make it to the finish line last season when their playoff chances appeared bleak. Indeed, over the past few years, the Liberty have forged that identity and built the roster to feature players that affect winning in lots of ways.

Laney’s toughness and leadership was something that the Liberty missed for much of last season...

Having a defender and team leader like Laney back at full strength will throw opponents off kilter and help the Liberty stay on track. Her injury absence throughout 2022 was felt immensely, but she was able to come back and propel the team to the playoffs when the stakes were at its highest:

Laney is one of the best, toughest players in the league and she will help set the tone for New York on both sides of the ball.

Brand new!

Los Angeles Sparks v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

We know the top line superstars that will suiting up this spring at Barclays Center: Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot. However, the depth of the Liberty promises to be just as exciting. One of the key bench players will be Kayla Thornton, acquired from Dallas in the same deal that got them Jones. KT has experience playing all over the world and has been successful everywhere she’s been.

At her media session, she was asked how her skill set will contribute to what the Liberty are trying to build, and she said:

“I’m a very vocal person. For me, my main thing is my defense and then obviously my offense comes. So [I’m] just coming in and trying to be the best two way player I can be and filling in where [the team] needs me to be.”

Like Laney, Thornton brings a toughness and flexibility on defense that will help the team and fit in perfectly with the culture the Liberty have built

For the Liberty, they struggled defending athletic wings in 2022. Having a player like Thornton who can guard up to four positions on defense and be a capable shooter from 3-point range on offense allows for a lot of fun experimentation. The Liberty have a lot more depth this season compared to last, and that depth will allow for everyone on the roster to maximize their skills. Brondello says she doesn’t know which lineups she’ll go with quite yet, but we can envision all the fun combinations she and the coaching staff can cook up once the season gets underway.

The ramp up

New York Liberty Press Conference Photo by Mike Lawrence/NBAE via Getty Images

Jones spoke with reporters at Liberty practice Monday as well, and she revealed that she is getting better by the day after suffering a stress fracture in her left foot during last year’s Finals vs the Las Vegas Aces...

Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV shared some footage of JJ working in the low post:

As Laney noted in talking to the press, the team is a bit bigger this season than they were in 2022. Backing up Jones at center will be Stefanie Dolson, Han Xu, Nyara Sabally, and Sika Kone, all of whom stand between 6’3” and 6’10”. The Liberty have had issues rebounding the ball, and the boost in size will help them on the boards and shore up the defense.

Vandersloot is a little bit banged up too. She suffered a collision in practice on Monday and is currently in concussion protocol...

The team is being cautious and not rushing Sloot back.

Stewart is in town completing her league medical screenings and will be at her first practice Thursday. Like Vandersloot, Stewart played for Fenerbahce overseas and won this year’s EuroLeague championship. Later on Thursday, the new Big Three will be making a guest appearance at this year’s ESPNw Summit which is also being held in Brooklyn...

The work continues.