New York Liberty to hire Sandy Brondello as new head coach (Report)

(Photo: Courtesy of the New York Liberty)

Brondello previously worked with current New York Liberty representatives Bec Allen and Sami Whitcomb with the Australian national squad.

In a report from Khristina Williams of Girls Talks Sports TV and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, the New York Liberty are set to name Sandy Brondello the ninth head coach in franchise history. Brondello spent the last eight seasons as the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury.

[[UPDATE: 1/7/21, 10:40 a.m. ET]]: The Liberty have confirmed the hiring of Brondello, who will speak at a 2 p.m. ET press conference alongside general manager Jonathan Kolb and team Governor Clara Wu Tsai.

“It is an honor to join the historic New York Liberty franchise and to coach and lead such a talented roster of players,” said Brondello in a team statement. “I owe immense gratitude to the team’s ownership and front office for entrusting me with this important role during such an integral time in the history of the organization. Alongside my family, I’m excited to move to New York City and begin preparations for our upcoming season.”

“Sandy brings a wealth of coaching experience and is a proven winner with a championship pedigree, both as a player and coach in the WNBA and internationally,” Kolb added in the same statement. “Throughout her longstanding professional coaching career, she has demonstrated her ability to build consistent and sustained success as a skilled leader and mentor on and off the court. We are thrilled to welcome her to New York as we move forward in our pursuit of winning a WNBA Championship.”

A native of Queensland, Brondello is one of the most accomplished players in Australian basketball history. Her accomplishments Down Under include the WNBL’s 1995 MVP Award (other previous winners include Lauren Jackson, Liz Cambage, and Kia Nurse) and standing as one of three players (alongside Robyn Maher and Rachael Sporn) to appear in at least 300 contests with the Australian national squad, commonly referred to as the Opals. Brondello was a part of the first Opals team to earn an Olympic medal (bronze at the 1996 Games in Atlanta) and would later earn silvers at the 2000 and 2004 Games at Sydney and Athens respectively. More recently, Brondello served as the Opals’ head coach at last summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Brondello, 53, would partake in five WNBA seasons on the court, entering the league as a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings) in 1998. She led the league in free throw percentage in 1998 (.923) and repped the Shock at the 1999 WNBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Detroit hosted Brondello for two seasons before two more with the Miami Sol (2001-02) and a final year with the Seattle Storm (2003). She finished second in three-point percentage in 1999 (.487) and 2003 (.438).

Coaching endeavors awaited Brondello shortly after retirement, serving as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars (now the Las Vegas Aces) before heading the team for a single season in 2010. Each of Brondello’s nine seasons at the head coaching helm has ended in the postseason, including her final campaign in Phoenix this summer/fall. Her maiden voyage with the Mercury in 2014 featured 29 wins (a WNBA single-season record) and the team’s most recent championship. Brondello was named the league’s Coach of the Year for her efforts.

The accomplished Brondello was almost immediately linked to the Liberty after it was announced that Phoenix would not renew her expired contract on Dec. 6. New York parted ways with incumbent head coach Walt Hopkins after two years. Brondello’s final season in the desert ended in the WNBA Finals. Phoenix was seeded fifth on the playoff bracket and opened their championship trek with a thrilling 83-82 win over the Liberty in the opening round. They’d later get by Seattle and Las Vegas before falling to the champions from Chicago in four games.

The Liberty are coming off the cancellation of a three-year playoff drought. New York, fresh off its first season as full-time tenants at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, boasted one of the most attractive coaching vacancies in recent WNBA memory, as the team’s firepower is headlined by the services of 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney (team-best 16.8 PPG in her first New York season).

Sabrina Ionescu, the touted top pick of the 2020 draft, is set to return for her second full WNBA season while the Liberty also expect to welcome back three-time WNBA champion Natasha Howard (16.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG in 13 games), whose metropolitan debut was marred by injury.

Other notable New Yorkers include WNBA All-Rookie team reps Michaela Onyenwere (who won the overall Rookie of the Year Award) and DiDi Richards, as well as 2020 nominee Jazmine Jones. Brondello’s arrival sets up an Australian reunion with Opal stars Sami Whitcomb (career-best 11.7 PPG) and free-agent-to-be Bec Allen (career-best 9.2 PPG).

The report of Brondello’s hiring comes less than 24 hours after Las Vegas announced that former Liberty star Becky Hammon would take over as head coach in place of another ex-New Yorker, Bill Laimbeer. Phoenix now holds the only active coaching vacancy in the WNBA. A further report from Williams states that the Mercury plan to name Brondello’s successor no later than Jan. 15.

The New York Liberty will open their 2021 season on May 7 at home against the Connecticut Sun.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags