clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sandy Brondello talks experience, Han Xu, and more at Liberty training camp

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

As we draw closer and closer to the start of the WNBA season, all eyes will be on the New York Liberty. Thanks to a monumental offseason, the team is a favorite to bring a championship back to New York City. As training camp rolls on, NetsDaily and Jackie Powell of The Next were able to chat with Liberty head coach, Sandy Brondello! Here’s our conversation from last Thursday:

On her early impressions of camp so far

“It’s been good. You know, I think we got really positive energy and it’s what you would expect. We’re showing growth on the court. So obviously a lot of areas we [still] need to work on. We’re missing some key pieces, but it’s very competitive. Now we’ve just got to just slow down a little bit.”

On the importance of communication and getting familiar with one another

“The more more comfortable you are, the more you can just go out there and play and play instinctively. And you know, we’ve got rules for things but we want them to just to feel it by by doing. But communication is a really big part. Communication is not just on the court, but off the court. It’s how our culture is all built, too.

On the impressive play of 2021 Draftee, Sika Kone

“She has a motor. She’s relentless. She’s still learning the game with some of the movements and what we want. She’s very coachable. And I mean, she just goes hard. There’s no coaching effort at all, but she’s getting out there and she just loves it. She has so much joy and that’s how it should be.”

On the blend between young players and veterans with international, Olympic, and championship experience:

“I think that’s when you look at all the best teams, the championship teams, that’s how they’re built. You can’t win without experience and veteran leadership, and that’s where we were lacking in last year and talented players. But you still need those young players to mold with that group. So I think we’ve got a really good balance. That was the goal and it worked. And now it’s just putting all the pieces together.”

On having more athleticism on the roster

“Versatility, we spoke about that a lot. A lot of our players are that but you have Kayla Thornton. [Betnijah Laney’s] back healthy, and that’s good. Didi Richards is healthy. Athleticism, you’ve got to be able to match it somehow and I think we have it. It’s always a five player defense, but I I think you have to match it. If you got some [athletic] players, it kind of helps.”

On having a healthy roster in camp and building the chemistry

“It takes time to learn a new system with new players and they have to learn each other. It was difficult, but there was nothing you could do [about injuries]. It’s control the controllables and let’s get better today. But it allows us to move forward a little bit quicker and we have experience now. It’s my second year here. They’re used to what we’re doing here, terminologies, everything. So you can see things come together a little bit quicker with what we want to achieve.”

On what she’s looking for when putting lineups together

“Making making sure we’re balanced, how we how we all fit, and what fits best together. But I think we can go in a lot of different ways. I think it’s pretty obvious who our starting five would be and it’s how we plug it in after that. So we’ve got great versatility in who we’re playing and how we want to play them.”

On Han Xu’s growth from last year to this year

“When your second language is English, it takes time. There’s so much [to learn] and it’s in the WNBA with the very best players. She’s had to learn a lot on the fly, so credit to Han. She’s stayed persistent. She’s very coachable and we have Kevin [Zheng] that helps with the translation and he understands basketball. But I think you see her comfortability this year. It allows her to come in and be just to play her game. Last year, it was a lot of learning. Still, defensively is where she grasps what we want to do. She still has to keep learning that part of it. Offensively, I think that comes a little quicker. Where we want to use her and we’re going to play to her strengths. At times at the end [of practice], I put her as a filler and Sika as a roller. [We] play to her strengths because she’s a great shooter. We’ve seen that

On how Han has been playing up on pick-and-rolls instead of dropping back

“And that was the biggest thing. In the beginning, he was always back and I’m like, “Dude, you’re getting beat every single time. They’re gonna put you in every single pick and roll.” So it’s just that, so that’s why we do colors. You know, you’re always in a yellow, you’re not in a green green. But she kind of knows and that’s what we’ve asked her to really work on. So she’s got to keep thinking of the next action: “Okay, now we’ve got to get up there!” instead of [playing back]. The thing is, it’s a bit of a transition when she comes back [from playing in the WCBA] because they play a different way. She said she has to adapt [to the speed of the WNBA]. So from the World Cup she was great because she came from the WNBA with the speed, and then China plays in a different way and it’s slower. So now, she’s using these first few days [to get back to speed]. She was already here last week, so that helped with her transition to get used to the speed again of how we play.

On preparing for and managing a 40-game season with no interruptions:

“That’s always nice. Every four years, we have the Olympics so we have the break, but there’s no other pauses here. But now with prioritization, the players have to be in camp so you kind of get them [earlier]. But, it’s great. The 40 games, I think that’s great. You want to keep playing and and the more games we play. I think the better we’ll get. So I think that will kind of help. Obviously it’s great to see [Brenna Stewart] and [Courtney Vandersloot] back here today. that we see. And [Jonquel Jones] started a little bit in the half court today, so it was good. We’ve just got to keep building.”

2023 espnW Summit NYC Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

On when she thinks Jonquel Jones will be ready to advance past halfcourt work

“Step by step. We take it step by step, we’re driven by it. It’s return to play so do it the right way. But maybe Saturday or we’ll just evaluate how she pulls up and then go from there. But [Friday] she will be half court again and then we’ll move practice around what she can do, and I have to let it go.”

On the importance of taking it slowly when it comes to managing Jones’ and Vandersloot’s injuries:

“It’s a long season. Taking care of the players, it’s what it’s all about and doing it in the right way. That’s why we have really professional people and performance staff. We want to make sure that we’re building them up in the right way because it is a long season. You don’t need to peak at the start of the season. You need to peak at the end of the season. And so it’s a bit of a science, isn’t it? So that’s important now, [so I think every team focuses on that too. It’s why today was a medium day. It wasn’t a hard day, we didn’t do a lot of multiple [drills]. Only near the end you saw, that was the only time we went full court other than a fastbreak drill. Tomorrow we’ll run more. So, just building it up in the right way. If it’s hard every day, I think that’s when you have breakdowns because of fatigue and any little thing.

New York Liberty All Access Practice Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

On the early success of Jocelyn Willoughby and Didi Richards in training camp:

“I think they are who they are, but they’re back healthy. I think Didi’s body is in great shape. She looks good. I think she’s improved in doing the skill work in the offseason and defensively, so that’s how we [want them] to play. They’re not [Vandersloot] or [Sabrina Ionescu]. This is how you can help the team by being a defensive player.

Didi is obviously a downhill driver. She’s a point guard. And Jocelyn is movement and doing all the little things well. I think Jocelyn went and played overseas, it was confidence for her. So they looked good. But I thought Stephanie Mawuli looked good today, too. And I think they all look good, so we’ve got some tough decisions to make. But it’s okay, that’s the fun part. It’s where we have to have an expansion sooner than later. But they’ve both been going well, Didi and Jocelyn. They compete hard, they’re good teammates, they’re doing everything that I’ve asked of them, and it’s been competitive.”