Another Swedish athlete who took over Madison Square Garden’s staging area is moving on.
New York Liberty veteran Amanda Zahui B has announced her metropolitan departure, as the WNBA veteran will join the Los Angeles Sparks. Zahui B, a Stockholm native, was the longest-tenured member of the team alongside fellow international import Rebecca Allen. She originally joined the Liberty via a trade with the Tulsa Shock five years ago. The Minnesota alumna entered the Association as the second overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft, chosen by the Shock, who now go by the Dallas Wings moniker.
Over five seasons in seafoam, Zahui B made her prescience felt on and off the court. She played a particularly large role in the Liberty’s 2020 endeavors in the Bradenton bubble, serving as a “baby vet” on a team laden with rookies. Zahui B averaged 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in her final Liberty season, partaking in all but one of the 22 games. Among her most cherished New York memories was a 37-point showing during a June 2019 win in Los Angels (the second-best single-game output in Liberty history) and hauling in a WNBA-record 21 defensive rebounds last August against Dallas, breaking a record held by Detroit’s Cindy Brown for over two decades. Along the way, Zahui B endeared herself to her Liberty teammates, developing strong friends with players like Allen and Han Xu.
After her departure was made official, Zahui B took to Instagram to pen a heartfelt farewell and thanks to her New York compatriots. Among the photos included in the post included her team gathered at midcourt at MSG, a Floridan pose with rookie Jazmine Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Kylee Shook, and Leaonna Odom, and her participation in the 2018 NYC Pride March.
“I came to New York very confused, shattered in many ways, and really kind of lost. Lost in Godâ€™s plans. I had no clue that NY would become home,” Zahui B’s caption partially reads. “I grew so much as a player and even more as a person.”
“Finding my confidence would not have been possible without each and every single one of my teammates through my NY years,” she continued. “I donâ€™t even know how I wouldâ€™ve made it without yâ€™all crazy asses! From our Turn-up crews to standing up against injustice, police brutality, racism, and for all kind of humans. No matter where or how, yâ€™all will always be in my heart and we shall continue to make a change together.” [sic]
Zahui B’s New York teammates wished her well, including current Liberty reps Allen, Stokes, and Asia Durr.
Despite the loss of Zahui B, the Liberty have remained active in the transaction front, welcoming in 2020’s Most Improved Player champion Betnijah Laney from Atlanta, as well as Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb from Seattle through a three-team trade that also involved the Phoenix Mercury.
Determined to finally rise from the ashes of the WNBA cellar, the New York Liberty now face a most interesting free agency period.
The New York Liberty have sowed their post-Madison Square Garden rebuild for three years now. But after three years at or near the bottom of the WNBA standings, they’re really to start reaping.
Three months after the Bradenton bubble was deflated for the last time, the Association’s free agency period unofficially opened on Friday, with its twelve teams now permitted to negotiate with their own free agents, as well as Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents. Deals and offer sheets can officially be signed on February 1.
Trapped in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history, the Liberty have picked some strong-long term contributors during their stay in hardwood purgatory. These additions go far beyond the high-profile arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, as the team has also welcomed in All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 All-Rookie team representative Jazmine Jones through the draft, while veteran leader Layshia Clarendon arrived through free agency last season. More recently, the Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second straight season, as they earned an early Christmas gift in the form of the top overall pick at this spring’s upcoming draft. Additionally, the Liberty gained franchise stability through new management. Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in 2019 and was ready to move the team into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before current events enforced a delay.
These decisions and steps forward have done little to atone for the fact that the Liberty have endured some brutal seasons in recent years, with things more or less plummeting in a 2-20 record inside the bubble. The Liberty went through most of last season without Ionescu and veteran contributors like Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr, and Marine Johannes, using seven rookies over the course of the enclosed season. With the veterans set to return, the Liberty will have some major decisions to make when it comes to these young players.
In the lottery aftermath, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it clear that the 2021 season would be one that could at least begin to right the ship while developing some of their younger talents. Kolb labeled this modern endeavor a “hybrid rebuild”.
“We have a really exciting opportunity to kind of have a hybrid rebuild if you will,” Kolb said. “We can be super competitive right now while bringing along the future of the Liberty down the road. So that’s what we’re going to try to do. We have a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.â€
â€œI think the most exciting thing is, weâ€™re in position to do something. Weâ€™re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if theyâ€™re interested in coming to New York, weâ€™re in a position to capitalize on it.â€
Based on numbers from Spotrac, the Liberty have just over $467,000 to spend through free agency.
ESM has you covered with what you need to know about the Liberty’s transactional future as the process gets underway…
The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.
C/F Kiah StokesÂ
Stokes was set to become a free agent but inked a one-year contract extension just before the Liberty’s season finale in September. After sitting out the entire 2019 WNBA season due to personal issues, Stokes returned to America with a newfound propensity for shooting the three, putting up 85 attempts after only three in her first four seasons. She sank only 20, but her newfound confidence from beyond the arc was inspiring to head coach Walt Hopkins.
“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said in September. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when youâ€™re uncomfortable, youâ€™re able to grow.”
“As this season went on, it was quite clear Kiah Stokes needed to be a part of what we’re doing,” Kolb said after her re-upping. “She enables us what we want to be and helps us be what we want to be.”
As a first-round pick from 2015, Stokes also presents a rare form of experience on the current New York roster.
The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.
Reserved players are those that have three years or less of WNBA service. Their current teams have exclusive negotiation rights.
F Joyner Holmes
After the Liberty endured their veteran opt-outs, they brought in Holmes, a 2020 second-round pick from Seattle. Holmes averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games off the bench but left her mark on New York history by tying a Liberty rookie record with 13 rebounds in a September tilt against Phoenix.
G Paris KeaÂ
A former draft pick in Indiana, Kea was signed midseason once it became clear that Ionescu was out with a long-term issue. She made the most of her opportunity, averaging 6.9 points over 11 contests (five of which she started). The Liberty recently announced that Kea underwent knee surgery for an injury she sustained while playing overseas in Israel. Her 2021 status is uncertain, but she is expected to make a full recovery.
Unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign with any team, except if they been bestowed core status
C Amanda Zahui B
Another New York veteran, coming over in a 2016 trade with the defunct Tulsa Shock, Zahui B emerged as a leader on and off the court last season. The rookie surplus looked up to her as an inspiration, while she used her platform to bring attention to social causes away from the hardwood.
Zahui B set career highs in nearly every major category this season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but with Stokes’ return confirmed and collegiate interior threat Charli Collier potentially up for the top pick, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Stockholm native’s future.
Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current teamÂ
F/G Rebecca Allen
Allen opted out of the 2020 season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, but was routinely mentioned by Liberty representatives over the season. Hopkins, for example, never hesitated to mention just how much he missed having Allen in his debut lineup.
“Sheâ€™s got a tremendous skill set and sheâ€™s got a rare mix of characteristics in that sheâ€™s about 6â€™2 and sheâ€™s really long and sheâ€™s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,â€ Hopkins said earlier last spring. â€œThatâ€™s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and weâ€™ve got one built-in already. On top of that, sheâ€™s a phenomenal person.â€
F Stephanie TalbotÂ
Talbot has yet to make her New York debut, having arrived through a draft night trade with Minnesota. Allen’s fellow Opal (a member of Australia’s national squad) likewise opted out but kept busy in her homeland’s top women’s league, earning first-team all-WNBL honors alongside WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage. Talbot previously worked with Hopkins when the latter was an assistant with the Lynx in 2019.
Outside Names to Watch
F Natasha Howard, Seattle
In her brief WNBA time, Ionescu found her shooting prowess rather quickly, scoring 33 points in only her second contest. If the Liberty were able to get another experienced interior threat, similar to what Ionescu had at Oregon with fellow 2020 draftees Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, it could help her get even more comfortable with the WNBA game.
Howard has had her experience working with game-changing point guards in Seattle, namely Sue Bird. With a pair of All-Defensive First Team nominations, she would also give the Liberty some much needed defensive pointers, as New York has finished no better than ninth in points allowed in each of the past three seasons (including a league-worst 84.3 per game in 2019). Hopkins (as well as assistant Shelley Patterson) has also worked with Howard in the past, as the two previously collaborated on the Lynx’s 2017 run to the WNBA Finals.
F Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles
Both Kolb and Hopkins have preached about the value of high-character players representing New York, and it’s hard to find anyone more accomplished on and off the court than Ogwumike. The current Spark and futureÂ Space Jam: A New Legacy starÂ is current in the midst of her second term as the WNBA Players Association president, with Clarendon serving as the second-in-command. WIth WNBPA headquarters situated on Sixth Ave., New York could be an attractive option to Ogwumike from both a basketball and business standpoint.
Both Howard and Ogwumike have core designations, but something can still be accomplished through a sign-and-trade deal.
F Emma Meeseman, Washington
Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep perhaps best personified Hopkins’ vision of playing positionless basketball where participants are confident from any area of the floor.
That more or less has been the story of Meeseman over the past few seasons, as she has fulfilled a variety of roles under Mike Thibault. She played it to her advantage during the 2019 WNBA Finals, coming off the bench to swipe series MVP honors after skipping the previous 2018 season to represent her native Belgium in the FIBA World Cup. Though Washington struggled without Elena Delle Donne last season, Meeseman set a new career-best with 4.5 assists per game.
Another bad quarter sank the New York Liberty on Saturday afternoon despite Amanda Zahui B making WNBA history.
WNBA history wasn’t enough to withstand another tough fourth quarter for the New York Liberty.
Amanda Zahui B had a WNBA record 21 defensive rebounds but a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter doomed them to an 80-63 loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday afternoon in the Bradenton bubble. A’ja Wilson led the way with 20 points for Las Vegas while Dearica Hamby had a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) off the bench. Each team returned to action after the WNBA joined the wave of athlete strikes across North America in protest of racial injustice.
The fourth quarter marred what was otherwise a strong, respectable day for the Liberty (2-13), who had won the third quarter by a 21-17 margin. Zahui B’s 21 rebounds made up for a tough shooting day from the field (2-of-11) and broke a Liberty record previously held by Tina Charles since July 2017. Her league record shattered a mark set by Detroit’s Cindy Brown during the 1998 season…the Association’s second year of existence.
“I think she’s at a point where she’s comfortable understanding where if her shots aren’t falling she can do other things for this team,” head coach Walt Hopkins said of Zahui B’s performance. “I thought her one-on-one defense was pretty darn good. Her rebounds were huge, obviously.”
Zahui B declined to comment on basketball matters, expressing only sadness at continued instances of racial injustice. She has been a vocal leader in activism in both American and her native Sweden.
Personal history was also set on the Liberty through Paris Kea. The mid-season acquisition scored a career-high 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including 4-of-6 from three-point range). Elsewhere, Kiah Stokes fell just short of a triple-double (12 points, 9 rebounds) and Layshia Clarendon scored 11 more in defeat. Clarendon has been a vocal voice in the WNBA’s social justice initiatives and recited Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” during a candlelit vigil held during the postponements caused by the strike.
With their win, Las Vegas (12-3) moves into a first-place tie with Seattle. The Aces also clinched their second consecutive playoff spot, becoming the first team officially enter the postseason bracket as the WNBA regular season enters its latter stages.
The Liberty return to action on Tuesday as they play their second game of the season against the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m., Fox Sports Go/CBSSN).
Layshia Clarendon sank a pair of free throws with less than a second remaining to give the New York Liberty a shocking win over Chicago.
The New York Liberty perhaps displayed their utmost potential on Tuesday night. It was thus appropriate, perhaps, that they played…and defeated…a team named the Sky.
Layshia Clarendon capped off a dominant fourth quarter by sinking victorious free throws with less than a second to go. Those fateful freebies, the last of her 17 points on the evening, were the winning margin in a 101-99 victory over the Chicago Sky in the Bradenton bubble. Amanda Zahui B led the way with a double-double to the tune of 22 points and 12 rebounds.
“I’m so damn proud of them,” head coach Walt Hopkins said afterward. “More of the things clicked than they have been. It’s just going to take us playing really good games. Chicago is really good. We could’ve lost that game on multiple occasions down the stretch. We kept punching, we stayed in it. We’ve got a tough, tough group of players.”
“This team is tough. After the game, it was almost like a relief,” Zahui B said. “We worked so hard. It’s a new group. We’re young and we haven’t folded yet. Any other team would’ve folded a long time ago. That just shows how tough we really are. I’m so proud of them. Every single one of them.”
To end a seven-game losing streak, the Liberty (2-12) faced a steep challenge from a Chicago squad that owned the best record among Eastern Conference squads. Conference placement matters little in the WNBA standings, but the Sky (10-5) were nonetheless battling for one of the WNBA’s top playoff seeds and had won four in a row entering. Chicago previously took a 101-85 decision on Thursday night.
Early on, the game lived up to its expected billing. The Sky led 29-22 after the first quarter and built their lead to as high as 16 just past the midway mark.
Calling timeout after Chicago led 40-25 with circa three minutes gone by in the second, Hopkins recalled that the Liberty kept things close after the first quarter on Thursday, but the Sky managed to have 57 points by halftime, which spoiled any hope the Liberty had for a surprise win. In the latter game, though, the Liberty came prepared.
For the rest of the frame, the Liberty outscored the Sky by a 21-9 tally to narrow the halftime gap to 49-46. The comeback was stoked by Zahui B’s scoring, as her outside tallies helped the Liberty take the lead in the third quarter. New York was 11-for-48 over their last two games from three-point range (including 3-of-19 on Thursday) but sank 14-of-30 in their win. Five players reached double-figures, as Kiah Stokes and Jocelyn Willoughby had 14 each, while recent signee Paris Kea tied her career-best with 10 off the bench. Louisville sisters Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook fell just short of joining them with a combined 17 points between. Shook ended the first and third quarters with mid-range buzzer-beaters.
“We talked about how they had 57 points in that first half and that it couldn’t happen again,” Hopkins said. “It’s easy to forget we were down 15 in the first half. I hope that we talk about the toughness of all these players because it’s just so hard as a 2-12 team to bring it every single night, every day in practice, every day in shootaround.”
It was a night of redemption for Willoughby, the tenth overall pick of April’s draft who was acquired in a draft day trade with Phoenix. After playing a combined 11 minutes over the past two games, the Virginia alumna played 17 on Tuesday and sank all five attempts from the field. Her 14 points tied an infantile career-best.
“That baby is tough. Jocelyn is so tough,” Zahui B said. “She wanted it so bad. She’s been locked in. She had a couple of games where she had more minutes and then she was taken off of the starting lineup and her minutes dropped. But she has never stopped working. She is probably one of the loudest people in practice. She always asks questions and she always wants to get better.”
The sharp-shooting Sky stuck around until the very end, anchored by the feared duo of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley (the latter of whom led all scorers with 29 points). Stefanie Dolson sank a triple to tie the game at 99 with 20 seconds left, but the Liberty opted to keep things rolling. Jones withstood a Chicago press and got the ball to Zahui B on the other end. Zahui B got the ball to a cutting Clarendon, who was fouled by Dolson with 0.3 seconds remaining. She sank the ensuing pair, the last of eight points that helped preserve the Liberty lead. New York never trailed after a pair of triples from Zahui B and Kea late in the third quarter.
The Liberty will look to start a winning streak on Thursday night, as they prepare to take on the Dallas Wings (8 p.m. ET, YES/CBSSN).
A’ja Wilson’s big day ended the New York Liberty’s chances at starting a winning streak on Sunday late afternoon in Bradenton.
The New York Liberty’s good fortune ended on Sunday evening against Las Vegas.
A’ja Wilson’s game-winner with 6.9 seconds remaining capped off a 31-point performance from the WNBA’s leading scorer. It allowed her Las Vegas Aces to survive another strong effort from Amanda Zahui B and the Liberty, who fell just short of starting a winning streak in a 78-76 heartbreaker in the Bradenton bubble.
“I thought our team deserved to win that game. I thought our players deserved to win,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said. “(Las Vegas) is a potential title team, this is a team that can be in the WNBA Finals. This is an extremely talented, well-coached team and we played them to the very end. We played them to the last possession.”
Coming off their first win of the season on Friday night against Washington, the Liberty (1-6) carried momentum into their Sunday showdown. They led for a majority of the game, going toe-to-toe with one of the league’s most complete teams. New York even led by as many as 12 throughout the course of the game.
Amanda Zahui B once again rose to the occasion with the Liberty missing both Sabrina Ionescu and Kylee Shook (right foot). The Stockholm-born interior threat picked up where she left off from Friday’s double-double performance, sinking six three-pointers over the first three frames. It was one short of the team record Zahui B tied during a 37-point performance in Los Angeles last season.
“We put ourselves in a great position to win,” Zahui B noted in her availability. “Keep pushing, keep building. I think the first thing we said when we got to the locker room was that we have really grown from our first game. If this had been a week ago, we could’ve lost by 30. We fought through the whole game, stayed together, and we got to keep on building. We’re a young team, nobody believes in us, and we’ve got to earn everything.”
Foul trouble, however, proved to play a role in the Liberty’s downfall. Picking her fourth infraction in the midway stages of the third, Zahui B took to the bench, allowing Las Vegas (5-2) to eat into the Liberty lead. Wilson tallied 18 points in the second half and visited the foul line 12 times, missing all but one of her attempts. Vegas also enjoyed late heroics and forced turnovers from veteran newcomer Angel McCoughtry.
The Liberty still had an opportunity to escape with a victory after Wilson’s heroics. Kia Nurse’s would-be winner fell short but was touched by Las Vegas as it went out of bounds. The Aces’ defense thwarted Layshia Clarendon’s ensuing inbounds pass, but New York still had 0.5 seconds to work with. Another attempt saw a Clarendon inbound go to Leaonna Odom, who put in the apparent equalizer, but the clock had been started before the ball was touched, forcing yet another retry.
One last Vegas swat sealed the deal, and the Aces earned their fourth consecutive victory.
“We should be playing overtime right now,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know if it was a scoreboard malfunction or if it was actually the scorekeeper who started it early. I would guess it’s the scorekeeper because it’s not automated. So somebody made a really big mistake and stole the game from us.”
Despite the loss, the Liberty felt that they had several positives to work with. Clarendon tallied 15 points and fell two rebounds short of a double-double, while rookie free agent Joyner Holmes had an infantile career-best 11 points. Kiah Stokes had a season-best 12 rebounds, her best output since returning to the Liberty lineup after sitting out last season.
“I think we’re more focused, especially on the little things,” Stokes said. “We weren’t going as hard as we could. I think we really made an effort over the last couple of days to do the little things, especially clean up turnovers, box out. Obviously, we still have things to work on, but now we’re in games and winning games. It stinks that we lost today but it’s a step in the right direction and it shows how good we can be.”
The Liberty and Aces will meet up again on August 29. New York’s season will continue against Western Conference competition on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go).
Asked about the atmosphere behind his first victory as a WNBA head coach, Walt Hopkins remarked that it featured “a whole lot of water”. The New York Liberty’s social media accounts were more than happy to prove his words were quite literal.
Friday night saw Hopkins guide his team to a 74-66 win over the defending WNBA champion Washington Mystics in the Bradenton bubble. As the final seconds ticked away, Hopkins remained stoic, only cracking a slight smile when his players joyfully surrounded him.
Once he got to the Liberty’s makeshift locker room, however, Hopkins finally let his guard down as members of the Liberty (1-5) doused him with water, his wide grin lost in his players’ aquatic assault. It didn’t take long for Hopkins to return to basketball matters, jokingly declaring that his copy of the box score was lost to the storm.
“We didn’t want to celebrate on the court, we wanted to act like we’ve been there,” Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom call. “It’s extremely touching that they care that it’s my first win, because it’s their first win too. But they were really warm and really genuine. It’s a pretty cool moment.”
Hopkins was named the eighth head coach in Liberty history in January after three seasons of a de facto apprenticeship under the legendary Cheryl Reeve in Minnesota. His first head coaching endeavor has already offered challenges some coaches will never experience in decades. Opt-outs and transactions have given the Liberty one of the youngest teams in North American professional sports history, packed with seven rookies. This was even before the 2020 season was shifted to Florida’s IMG Academy in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, postponing the Liberty’s full-time Barclays Center debut.
The infantile squad perhaps pales in modern comparison with the competition, many of whom are firmly planted in “win-now” mode. Consolation reigned with the idea of consequence-free games headlined by top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, but she was lost to an ankle sprain in her third WNBA game. There’s no word as to whether her rookie season will resume.
Valiant efforts that followed were marred by garish ten-minute showings. Hopkins himself noted in Friday’s pregame that the team seemed to have “one bad quarter” in each of their showings to date. For example, that narrowed a 14-point deficit to one late in the third quarter against Phoenix last weekend but were outscored 41-13 the rest of the way. In Hopkins’ first get-together against Reeve (and his New York predecessor Katie Smith) on Wednesday, the Liberty led after the first quarter and shot 55 percent in the first half, but were on the wrong end of a 27-6 margin in the third.
So Hopkins did what every family, every business, every unified, rational organization does in a time of crisis…talk it out.
Hopkins revealed in his postgame media discussion that the team met for an emotional meeting prior to the contest against Washington. Labeling it an “everyone get it out on the table” discussion, it was part of the reason Hopkins was looking as lively as possibly could prior to a difficult challenge.
“The thing I’ll remember the most (about the first win) is that we had one of those meetings,” Hopkins said. “Let’s talk through this, let’s talk about specifically what we have to do to get better. We went around after the (Minnesota) game and before the (Washington) game and we asked, what is your controllable? Everyone said one thing. Everyone controlled their controllable today. All the team stats we talked about limiting, we limited.”
“That’s the thing I’m going to remember: the response to a really emotional meeting. It’s really special.”
The game against the Mystics featured a sense of controllable sloppiness. The Liberty led by an 18-14 tally at the end of the first, but ended it in tremendous fashion, with Megan Walker finding fellow rookies Joyner Holmes in transition after a Washington miss. It commenced a 16-5 Liberty run that helped them build a lead they’d never relinquish.Â
Hopkins carefully managed the final portions, fatefully calling a timeout with the Liberty up by 12 near the midway mark of the third quarter. When the Mystics trimmed the lead down to five later in the frame, physicality took over. Jazmine Jones drew a foul in the interior, allowing a stoppage in play and fresh legs on the court. The Liberty scored on that possession and kept their foot on the gas pedal from there on out. Kia Nurse and Jocelyn Willoughby reached the foul line a combined 17 times, sinking all but three of those attempts.
The head coach credited the fateful meeting for the surge and the players echoed those claims of positive impact.
“It was about having that hard moment and realizing you have to make the choice to have a better perspective in all of this and look at it as a moment of joy,” Friday’s top New York scorer Layshia Clarendon said of the meeting. “I’m a joyful player, silly, fun. I play really physical, but I love to have fun in practice, always have a smile on my face. I wasn’t playing like that. (The meeting) was a moment for me to remember that I need to get back to who I am, being myself. It’s when I play the most fun.”
“All the new players and coach Walt, they deserve it. We deserve it,” added Amanda Zahui B, she of a career-best 14 rebounds. “It feels good. I’m very proud of my teammates. We stepped up, all of us.”
Hopkins has routinely preached that wins and losses aren’t going to be 2020’s barometer in terms of New York growth. He certainly won’t be complaining when a few head his way, though.
The chance to start his first winning streak comes on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Aces (5 p.m. ET, YES).
New York Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins has repeatedly stated that growth in this unusual season won’t be measured by wins. Having said that, he’s certainly not turning down any visits to the victory column.
Veterans took over the New York cause on Friday night, as Amanda Zahui B’s matching double-double (14 points, career-best 14 rebounds) guided the Liberty to an upset victory in the Bradenton bubble. The Liberty went on to take down the defending champion Washington Mystics by a 74-66 final. Kia Nurse led Liberty scorers with 17 points while fellow veteran Layshia Clarendon put in 14 more.
It’s the first win of the season for the Liberty (1-5) and the first career win for the rookie head coach Hopkins.
“I’m glad my face stayed neutral. I remember when I was a kid, my dad told me, when you hit a home run act like you’ve been there before. I’m just proud of (the team). I wanted to close it out,” Hopkins said of the final seconds over a postgame Zoom call. “Our bench came in, took a big punch, didn’t surrender the lead.”
New York faced a tall task in their third full game without top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. Washington (3-3) was missing several key contributors from last season’s championship squad (in addition to newly acquired Liberty legend Tina Charles, who opted out of the bubble proceedings) but still came in armed with the firepower of Myisha Hines-Allen, Ariel Atkins, and Aerial Powers, each of whom entered with averages of at least 15 points per game. Also in tow was defending WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meeseman (13.6 PPG).
But the Liberty took control early at the end of a sloppy first quarter. Leading 16-14 in the final minute, Megan Walker rebounded a Leilani Mitchell miss and threw it upcourt to a streaking Joyner Holes. The rookie free agent’s layup fell through with just under two seconds remaining, allowing the Liberty to carry an 18-14 lead into the next frame.
That score kicked off a 16-5 run that put the Liberty up 11 just past the midway point of the second. A Zahui B triple, the last of four on the evening, converted with five seconds left built a 40-31 halftime lead. The 31 Washington points were good for the Mystics lowest tally over a half thus far this season.
“I’m very proud of my teammates,” Zahui B said in her own Zoom call. “We stepped up, all of us.”
“I think Zahui’s one of our vocal leaders. We ask her to do a lot on the court and off the court,” Nurse said of her fellow veteran. “I think today she just found a way to get it done. Zahui’s a great basketball player. When she’s loud and she’s talking, she does some great things.”
Primarily fueled by efforts from Powers and Meeseman, the Mystics got as close as five points in the third quarter, but Zahui B’s buzzer-beater to close the stage permanently shifted momentum into the New York side. A season-best dozen three-pointers on the New York end (led by four from Clarendon and Zahui B) helped seal the deal, as did the Liberty’s constant visits to the foul line. Nurse and Jocelyn Willoughby united to sink 14-of-17 chances. Powers led Washington with 20, but it wasn’t enough to quell the victorious New York effort.Â
Friday marked the Liberty’s first win over the Mystics since August 2017. The two will square off on September 12, the last day of the regular season.
The Liberty return to action on Sunday late afternoon, as they’ll take on Las Vegas Aces (5 p.m. ET, YES).
WNBA teams have begun their Floridan descent, as all but one of them have started to make their way to Bradenton’s IMG Academy for the opening of their 2020 season. The league is set to play a 22-game season headquartered in Florida after their May opening was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many players have taken to social media to showcase their new surroundings and representatives of the New York Liberty are no exception.Â Most notably, Kiah Stokes was more than happy to play into the Liberty’s reputation as a de facto United Nations of basketball. The center/forward of Turkish descent revealed that she would be rooming with guard Kia Nurse and fellow interior prescience Amanda Zahui B, who respectively hail from Canada and Sweden.
Elsewhere, veteran newcomer Layshia Clarendon announced her departure for the endeavor with a post that expressed a hint of trepidation but also hope and confidence in the league’s medical protocols.
Rookies also got in on the social sharing, with first-round picks Sabrina Ionescu and Jazmine Jones commemorating their arrivals in their Instagram Stories.
The WNBA has opted to create a bubble-like surrounding at IMG Academy, affectionately referred to by some players and media as the “wubble” (though Stokes spoke out against that name on Twitter). Coronavirus cases have surged in Florida, but the league is confident in its setup. 137 players were tested upon their arrival in Florida this week with seven testing positive, per a league statement. The statement explains that those who tested positive “will remain in self-isolation until she satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician”. Players and staff will be tested daily for the next two weeks and will then quarantine for four days.
Of the league’s dozen teams, only the Indiana Fever has yet to report to Florida due to “an abundance of caution due to the CDCâ€™s close contact self-quarantine requirements”. Several players have already opted out of the 2020 season due to health concerns, including Rebecca Allen and Asia Durr of the Liberty. Numerous national names have also opted out, including All-Stars Liz Cambage of Las Vegas and Jonquel Jones of Connecticut.
Player reviews of the “wubble” appear to be mixed thus far. Participants like Minnesota’s Lexie Brown have offered positive reviews thus far, while negative response have appeared to come from Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, among others.
In their effort to press on, the WNBA has announced that the 2020 season will be dedicated to social justice. The Floridian courts and players’ warm-up uniforms will bear the “Black Lives Matter” slogan and game uniforms on opening weekend will feature the names of female victims of police brutality and racial violence. Additionally, a Social Justice Council has been formed, one whose mission is described as a “driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control amongst other important societal issues”. Clarendon is among those on the council.
“We are incredibly proud ofÂ WNBAÂ players who continue to lead with their inspiring voices and effective actions in the leagueâ€™s dedicated fight against systemic racism and violence,â€ saidÂ WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a league statement. â€œWorking together with the WNBPA and the teams, the league aims to highlight playersâ€™ social justice efforts throughout the 2020 season and beyond.Â Systemic change canâ€™t happen overnight, but it is our shared responsibility to do everything we can to raise awareness and promote the justice we hope to see in society.â€
The league’s schedule is expected to be released at a later date.
Members of the New York Liberty aren’t sticking to sports in these times, marching with protestors in their quest to end systematic racism.
On-court representatives of the New York Liberty are joining the fight against injustice, systematic racism, and police brutality.
Protests sparked by police brutality against African-American citizens have risen in all 50 states and the cause has now gone international. At the forefront of protests in her native Sweden is Liberty center Amanda Zahui B. The veteran has been vocal in social causes long before the modern protests began, speaking on environmental, immigration, and mental health issues through the 2019 season (previously documented by Jackie Powell of High Post Hoops). With calls for societal change at a fever pitch, Zahui B has amplified her own voice on social media, sharing her active participation in a demonstration in her native Stockholm.
In her photos, which were also shared by the Liberty’s social accounts, Zahui B brandishes a sign that reads “Cops have blood on their hands”. Earlier this week, she posted a 13-minute video on Instagram calling for reform and justice.
“I am almost at a loss of words and yet I have so many things to say,” she said in her emotional video. “I want to do something and I am trying my best to educate myself and others on the privilege white people have and the privilege there is in this world to kill an innocent black human being.”
Zahui B mentioned on Twitter that the issue of police brutality was not limited to America, criticizing the actions of the Swedish National Police Board during the demonstrations in Stockholm.
Also, and this is a big motherfucking also. Police brutality is not only in the US. It is all over the world. Yesterday we peacefully protested and YET @Polisen_Sverige felt the need to throw young girls on the ground and teargas them right after doing so.
Zahui B is not the only New Yorker using her voice to call for change. All-Star guard Kia Nurse told Complex Canada that she was planning to use her platform as a New York professional athlete to achieve change.
“With what’s going on in the world right now, obviously change needs to happen and it’s a conversation that needs to be had,” Nurse to Alex Narvaez. “I think social media is a great way to start that conversation…but it’s been heartbreaking and devastating to see what’s been going on.”
With the WNBA season on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nurse had become the face of Liberty social media, hosting a virtual talk show entitledÂ Kickin’ It With Kia, in which the Hamilton, Canada native interviewed her teammates new and old. In the wake of current events, Nurse has put the show on hold to be a bigger figure in the quest for change.
“Deeply affected by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, I join the rest of the world in grieving and demanding justice,” Nurse said in a statement on Liberty social media. “I am becoming educated on ways that I can be part of the change, and enjoying family this week.”
Numerous players, as well as head coach Walt Hopkins Jr., have been active on social media sharing their thoughts. One of the Liberty’s newest members, top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, was among them.
“How can you put into words how heart breaking [sic] it is that people are being murdered based on the color of their skin? You can’t,” Ionescu said in a message posted earlier this week. “No words will heal this pain, but all I can say to my black brother and sisters is- I see you, I hear you, I love you, and I will stand with you. I will stand with you today, and everyday [sic] because BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
In conjunction with their Nets-branded sibling squads in the NBA and the G League, the Liberty also released a statement days after their home of Barclays Center was used as a hub for police brutality and injustice-related demonstrations in Brooklyn. Chief operating officer Keia Clarke and general manager Jonathan Kolb were among the signees.