Possible New York Liberty jerseys discovered in White Plains store

As new WNBA uniforms start to trickle out, a White Plains woman discovered what could be the New York Liberty’s new duds.

The New York Liberty may be leaving White Plains behind, but a piece of their possible future was apparently found in Westchester County.

A White Plains-based Twitter user identified as “S. Janelle” took to the platform to share what appears to be new uniforms for the Liberty, who are set to celebrate their 25th anniversary season, along with the WNBA as a whole, this summer. S. Janelle, a junior varsity high school basketball coach for the Byram Hills High School Bobcats in Armonk, shared photos of the new look on Twitter, which plays on both the teal and copper perceptions of the Statue of Liberty that bears the team’s name. Of note, the jersey bears numerals on the front of the uniform, namely the No. 20 of Sabrina Ionescu.

Upon zooming in on the photos, the jersey’s teal variant (adorned with the label “Equality”, the i replaced by a Liberty torch) is labeled the “Rebel” edition, while the black edition bears the “Explorer” moniker.

S. Janelle told ESM that she was previously a season-ticket holder during the Liberty’s days at Madison Square Garden and continued to support the team during their two seasons in White Plains’ Westchester County Center. Much like the Liberty using seven rookies last season, S. Janelle learned how to play with freshmen. In a shortened season, the Bobcats went 6-3 on a team with six first-years and four upperclassmen.

As the Liberty prepare to embark on their landmark 25th anniversary season, the team also unveiled a new marketing campaign encouraging fans to use the tag “#OwnTheCrown” on their social media platforms. The Liberty also unveiled a video to commemorate their new campaign, with team legend and current New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon providing narration. WNBA All-Rookie team nominee Jazmine Jones makes an appearance along with numerous Brooklyn residents, starring alongside highlights from the Liberty’s most recent season in the Bradenton bubble.

“The #OwnTheCrown campaign pays homage to women who continue to break barriers like the women of the Liberty have done for the last 25 years,” Shana Stephenson, the Liberty’s Vice President of Marketing, said  “From on-and off-court legends of the franchise like T-Spoon, to local business owners, youth athletes, activists and artists, the team will celebrate the journey of women who are vital to not only the history of the organization, but the overall empowerment of women, and the diverse culture of New York City.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Layshia Clarendon undergoes top surgery

The WNBA veteran has received support from both the league and New York Liberty teammates after their social media announcement.

New York Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon announced on Friday that they underwent top surgery to remove breast tissue earlier this month. Clarendon made their announcement on social media. The Cal-Berkeley graduate wrapped their first season with the Liberty after signing with the team last offseason.

“It’s hard to put into words the feeling of seeing my chest for the first time free of breasts, seeing my chest the way I’ve always seen it, and feeling a sense of gender euphoria as opposed to gender ⁣dysphoria,” Clarendon said in their Instagram post. I’m usually not scared to share news publicly but the amount of hate, myths & ignorance surrounding Trans and Non-Binary people’s existence actually had me debating sharing this joy. I want Trans people to know and see that we’ve always existed & no one can erase us!”

Clarendon’s announcement has received droves of support in the wake of their announcement, including statements from both the Liberty and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, as well as from teammates like Amanda Zahui B.

“Layshia’s story is one of inspiration and courage, and as a takeaway from the emotional conversation we shared recently, my hope is that the WNBA’s full support will extend far beyond this league,” Engelbert said on her Instagram story. “We are so proud that Layshia is part of the WNBA and we know that their voice and continued advocacy will not only support and help honor and uplift many other nonbinary and trans people, but also encourage empathy and understanding for the community across all levels of sport.”

“The New York Liberty family is in full support of Layshia Clarendon and their choice to live authentically. The Liberty has been and will continue to be an organization that celebrates the individuality of all people. Layshia is a proud embodiment of our belief that our strength lies in our truth and no one should live constrained by societal boundaries. Layshia’s journey as a pioneering athlete, along with their activism and advocacy work, is an inspiring call for each of us to honor our humanity above all else.”

Clarendon entered the league as a first-round pick of the Indiana Fever has been at the forefront of the WNBA’s off-the-court endeavors, serving on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council and the vice president of the league’s players association. They earned a career-best 11.5 points per game in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble last season.

The Liberty, along with the rest of the WNBA, will be permitted to formally sign free agents on February 1.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Asia Durr tells her COVID story on HBO’s Real Sports

The New York Liberty’s first-round choice from the 2019 draft spoke about her bout with COVID-19 and her experience as a “long hauler”.

New York Liberty guard Asia Durr appeared on Tuesday night’s season premiere of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel to discuss her bout with the novel coronavirus, one that has carried on far beyond her recovery. Durr, the second overall pick of the 2019 WNBA Draft, opted out of the Liberty’s 2020 efforts in the Bradenton bubble due to her diagnosis.

Speaking with Real Sports correspondent Mary Carillo, Durr was showcased as one of several athletes who are still feeling the aftershocks of their battle with COVID-19. Such patients experience damage caused by the disease for months after their diagnosis. Symptoms of long-haulers include fatigue and shortness of breath, and spiked heart rate. According to Baltimore-based pulmonologist Dr. Emily P. Brigham, MD, who is also interviewed in Carillo’s piece, the condition is more present in women, including athletes.

Carillo presents Durr’s story as a “cautionary tale” in the story of long-haulers. Speaking through a video conference, Durr admits that a good day consists of going to the store or cleaning her home, a stark contrast to the heavy workload demanded from a professional athlete. Other days, she can’t get out of bed, an experience she compares to “get(ting) hit by a bus”.

“My life has completely changed since June 8,” Durr told Carillo, referring to the date of her initial diagnosis. “I was back-and-forth, seeing doctors, hospitals…I couldn’t breathe, I was spitting up blood…lung pain that was so severe, it felt like somebody took a long knife and was just stabbing you in your lungs each second. I woke up, 2:00 in the morning, vomiting, going back-and-forth to the bathroom. I couldn’t keep anything down.”

Durr confirmed to Carillo that she had lost 32 pounds as a result of her ordeal. The question of if she’ll ever play basketball again “has definitely crossed (her) mind plenty of times”.

Other affected athletes interviewed came from the collegiate level, including Concordia University runner Natalie Hakala and University of St. Thomas (MN) hockey player Nicole Knudson.

Following her appearance, Durr took to Twitter to thank well-wishers for their support and to encourage them to take the ongoing health crisis seriously.

“My hope is that in sharing my struggle, it will help others,” Durr said on her account, @A_Hooper25. “PLEASE take COVID seriously folks. It’s very real. Wear a mask! Protect each other. Young people, athletes, you too. We are not invincible.

She also assured Liberty fans that she was doing everything in her power to be ready for the 2021 season.

I am working every day to be back for this WNBA season!” Durr wrote. “My progress is slow and incremental, but I’m striving to gain momentum. Thankful for (the Liberty) for their patience & resources. This entire struggle has been a powerful reminder of all my blessings too.”

Durr’s full appearance on the monthly newsmagazine program can be viewed in its entirety on HBO Max (subscription required).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM’s New York Liberty free agency preview 2021

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.”

“I think the most exciting thing is, we’re in position to do something. We’re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if they’re interested in coming to New York, we’re in a position to capitalize on it.”

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…

Resolved

The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.

C/F Kiah Stokes 

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 you’re uncomfortable, you’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.

Core/Unrestricted

The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.

Reserved

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 Kea 

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

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.

Suspended/Expired

Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current team 

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.

“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’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,” Hopkins said earlier last spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”

F Stephanie Talbot 

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 future Space Jam: A New Legacy star 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.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Liberty: Paris Kea undergoes successful knee surgery

The New York Liberty’s in-season addition was injured while playing overseas in Israel, but she is expected to make a full recovery.

The New York Liberty announced on Thursday that guard Paris Kea has undergone successful anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery on her left knee earlier this week.

Kea sustained the injury during her overseas endeavors with Maccabi Haifa, an Israeli club. At the time of her injury, she ranked second on the squad with 19.0 points and 2.5 steals per game. Her procedure was performed at the Hospital for Special Surgery under the watch of Dr. Riley Williams III. Rehabilitation begins next week and Kea is expected to make a full recovery.

A North Carolina alumna, Kea joined the Liberty in the middle stages of the WNBA’s bubble season in Bradenton. Entering the league as a third-round pick to Indiana in 2019, Kea averaged 6.9 points over 11 games (five starts), her best output being a 21-point tally against her former team in September. Kea is set to enter free agency, but the Liberty maintain her rights. During her time at Chapel Hill, Kea earned consecutive first-team All-ACC honors, honored alongside current New York teammate Asia Durr.

Elsewhere on Thursday, the Liberty also announced a collaboration with the National Women’s Hockey League, which is set to begin a bubbled season in Lake Placid, NY. In support of the Metropolitan Riveters, cardboard incarnations of Sabrina Ionescu, Layshia Clarendon, Jazmine Jones, Jocelyn Willoughby and Amanda Zahui B. will appear in the bubble at Herb Brooks Arena. The Liberty are one of two WNBA teams partaking in the NWHL union, joining the Connecticut Sun and their union with the Connecticut Whale. Normally playing their games at Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, the Riveters won the league’s Isobel Cup in 2018. The New York Rangers will likewise be “sending” some representatives.

The Liberty will choose first in the 2021 WNBA Draft, set to be held later this spring.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty G Layshia Clarendon, wife Jessica welcome first child

Clarendon, set to enter their second year with the New York Liberty, welcomed “the best Christmas present ever”.

New York Liberty veteran Layshia Clarendon announced this week that she and her wife Jessica (nee Dolan) welcomed their first child on Christmas Day.

“You were a hope, a dream, a conversation, and a long 41 week [sic] wait and now you are here. How could Christmas get any sweeter than this?” Clarendon said in their Instagram post commemorating the arrival. “2020 was a year full of grief, fear, and deep wounds. The journey to this moment has been a salve for our souls every step of the way. ⁣Don’t hesitate to embrace and celebrate your joy. We all deserve it, in times like these, and always. #BabyC #CallMeBigPoppa.”

Clarendon, 29, has been married to Dolan, a senior manager at the Wasserman agency and fellow Cal-Berkeley alumna, since 2017. The 2017 WNBA All-Star has been one of the more active voices in the WNBA’s social justice endeavors. She joined the Liberty last season on a two-year deal, serving as one of the few veterans and the most experienced representative on a New York squad stacked with rookies. In addition to their on-court duties, Clarendon also serves on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council, which also includes Liberty CEO Keia Clarke.

Over eight WNBA seasons, Clarendon has averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 assists in a career that has also visited Indiana, Atlanta, and Connecticut. She put up a career-best 11.5 points per game in last season’s bubble-based endeavor in Bradenton, with her season-best tally of 20 coming in the Liberty’s opener against Seattle in July.

While the plans for the 2021 WNBA season have not been revealed, the Liberty will choose first in the upcoming draft this spring. It will mark the second consecutive season in which they will choose first.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty: 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery staged for Friday

The New York Liberty will have the top odds in the 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery, which will be held on Friday night.

‘Twas three weeks before Christmas, but the New York Liberty could gain a special early gift later this week.

The WNBA has announced that the 2021 Draft Lottery will be staged on Friday night during halftime of the anticipated college basketball matchup between No. 20 DePaul and No. 5 Louisville. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, which will carry lottery proceedings for the ninth consecutive season. LaChina Robinson will host the reveal, which will be overseen by WNBA Head of League Operations Bethany Donaphin.

New York will have the best odds entering Friday’s drawing, which takes into account cumulative records over the past two seasons for the four non-playoff teams. Weighed down in a rebuilding effort, the Liberty went 12-44 over the past two showings, including a 2-20 mark in the WNBA’s abbreviated bubble season in Bradenton, Florida.

This gives them a 44.2 percent chance of securing the top overall pick for the second straight season. Last time around, the Liberty leaped from the second-best odds to essentially “win” the Draft Lottery for the first time in team history. New York used that selection to take college basketball sensation Sabrina Ionescu out of Oregon in the most recent selections last April. Ionescu partook in three games in the Bradenton bubble before an ankle injury prematurely ended her debut season.

Behind the Liberty, the Atlanta Dream (15-41) have the second-best odds at 27.6 percent, followed by the Dallas Wings (18-38, 17.8) and Indiana Fever (19-37, 10.4). The remaining picks in the first round, consisting of 2020 playoff teams, have already been sorted through the inversion of regular season records, which will likewise determine the full order for the second and third rounds as well.

Staging the Draft Lottery during a Louisville basketball holds a sense of irony for the Liberty. Three former Cardinals currently reside on the Liberty roster, including 2019’s second overall pick Asia Durr. While Durr opted out of the bubble endeavor, the team was nonetheless represented through Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook, who were respectively taken with 12th and 13th picks during last spring’s draft. Jones was later named to the WNBA’s All-Rookie team, becoming the first New Yorker to do so since Brittany Boyd and current teammate Kiah Stokes earned the honor in 2015. Modern Louisville senior Dana Evans (18.0 points, 4.2 assists per game in 2019-20) is expected to be a first-round choice next spring.

Other big name prospects at the top of the 2021 draft board will include Rennia Davis (Tennessee), Destiny Slocum (Oregon State), and Didi Richards (Baylor). Texas junior Charli Collier has been pegged as a potential early entrant.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Kia Nurse joins TSN as basketball analyst

Kia Nurse, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty All-Star will join her native Canada’s top sports network for their ongoing coverage of the NBA and WNBA postseason.

New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse is adding another skill to her expansive resume.

The Liberty announced on Tuesday that Nurse will be joining Canadian sports network TSN (The Sports Network) for their continuing coverage of the NBA and WNBA playoffs. Labeled “Canada’s Sports Network”, TSN boasts five national channels and carries numerous domestic and international events across their airwaves.

Nurse, a Hamilton, Ontario native, returns to TSN after making her debut during the 2019 NCAA basketball championships. She assured fans Liberty and Team Canada fans that her broadcasting duties would not interfere with her on-court material.

“I’ve truly enjoyed my time in front of the camera as much as I have playing basketball and I’m honoured [sic] to be back to talk about the game I love,” said Nurse in a statement released by the Liberty and TSN. “I’m excited to join the amazing team at TSN, and look forward to expanding my experience as a broadcaster.”

Nurse and her family have routinely appeared on TSN throughout the years. Her father Richard was a receiver for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and her cousin Sarah has represented Team Canada hockey in numerous international tournaments. Nurse’s brother Darnell also plays for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers (whose television rights are owned by competitor Rogers Media).

Chosen 10th overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft, Nurse recently wrapped up her third season with the Liberty. She averaged 12.2 points and a career-best 2.9 rebounds in the Bradenton bubble, servings as a self-described “baby vet” on a team that dressed seven rookies throughout the course of the 2020 season. Nurse was elected to her first WNBA All-Star team last season.

“We’re extremely excited to have an elite and instantly recognizable Canadian basketball personality in Kia Nurse join our team and connect with fans across the country,” said Nathalie Cook, Vice-President of TSN, in the statement. “We will continue to cheer Kia on in her all-star role on the court, and she will elevate our broadcasts with her insights and in-depth knowledge of the game.”

Nurse has made her mark on Team Canada’s basketball endeavors in recent years. In 2015, the University of Connecticut alumna was named the MVP of the FIBA Americas Women’s Championship, guiding Canada to their first top finish in the tournament since 1995. Nurse would cap things off with a team-best 20 points in the 82-66 win over Cuba in the gold medal game. She is expected to return to duties with Team Canada for the Summer Olympics next year in Tokyo.

The WNBA playoffs continue on Tuesday night, with the Connecticut Sun seeking a 2-0 series lead on the Las Vegas Aces (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Meanwhile, the semifinal matchup between the top-ranked Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx gets underway immediately after, as inconclusive COVID-19 tests postponed the series opener on Sunday. Both the semifinal and WNBA Final stages are best-of-five.

The NBA’s semifinals likewise continue on Tuesday, as the Los Angeles Lakers seek a commanding 3-0 lead on the Denver Nuggets (9 p.m. ET, TNT).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty sign Kiah Stokes to contract extension

One of the New York Liberty’s “baby vets” has re-upped with the team after developing a three-point prowess.

Kiah Stokes is taking home quite the souvenir from her visit to Florida.

Hours before her New York Liberty’s Bradenton bubble finale against the Dallas Wings on Sunday (12 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go/CBSSN), Stokes was granted a contract extension through the 2021 season. The University of Connecticut alumna is set to wrap up her fifth season with the team after arriving as a first-round pick (11th overall) in 2015.

“Kiah is an integral part of our team and she has shown tremendous growth in her game both offensively and defensively this season,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said in a team statement. “As one of the best shot blockers in the league, her physicality and ability to stretch the defense is something that is integral to the Liberty’s culture and future success.”

Stokes, 27, is one of the most experienced players on a Liberty roster hosting six rookies, having returned to the team after spending all of the 2019 WNBA season overseas. She is the only player to start and partake in every Liberty game this season. In only her fourth season, Stokes became the Liberty’s all-time leader in blocks (at 187 entering Sunday).

This season, Stokes discovered a newfound three-point prowess, encouraged by the oversight of new head coach Walt Hopkins. Having taken only three in her WNBA career entering the bubble, she took 83 this season. She sank a career-best five in Saturday’s showdown with the Washington Mystics.

It’s possible that this newfound talent could fit in well when the Liberty’s sharp-shooting veterans Rebecca Allen, Marine Johannes, and Asia Durr presumably return in 2021. Each opted out of the Bradenton setup in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said prior to Sunday’s game. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re able to grow.”

A Cedar Rapids native, Stokes is the daughter of former NBA draft pick Greg Stokes, who played two seasons in Philadelphia and Sacramento. She is also well-accomplished on the international level, earning back-to-back Turkish Women’s Basketball Cups with Fenerbahçe, a long-running squad based in Istanbul.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Kiah Stokes sets career record in penultimate 2020 game

Kiah Stokes’ summer of shooting allowed her to set a new career-best in the New York Liberty’s penultimate game of the 2020 season.

Trips to Florida can provide full of life-changing experiences. Visiting the Sunshine State for business purposes, Kiah Stokes has had one in her return to the New York Liberty.

The Liberty fell to the Washington Mystics on Saturday by a 75-58 final in their penultimate game in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble. But personal history awaited Stokes, who tallied all of her 15 points on five successful attempts from three-point range. Stokes tied for the lead in scoring with Kia Nurse.

“I was excited to get a new feel for everything. Basically, for as long as I had been in New York it was Tina Charles’ team,” Stokes said of her new role as both a shooter and veteran leader. “I was a little nervous going into this season, but I think Walt Hopkins has done a great job with the system. He’s really put a lot of confidence in me.”

“It was nervous for me in the beginning, but the coaching staff and all my teammates have a lot of confidence in me. I’m thankful for that, thankful for the coaching staff putting me in this position, trying to expand my game.”

In her fifth season, Stokes is by far one of the longest-tenured players on the current Liberty roster. She maintained a traditional interior prescience in her first few seasons, becoming the Liberty’s all-time leading in blocks in 2018. After spending all of last season overseas, Stokes joined the Liberty (2-19) for their Floridian adventure overseen by new head coach Walt Hopkins.

Under Hopkins, Stokes developed a new role as a shooter, particularly from three-point range. The Connecticut alumna took over three shots since her WNBA entry in 2015. She’s taken 83 this time around with one game to go.

“She’s been doing what she’s been doing from three. The shots went down for her tonight. She sees one go in, that helps her confidence,” Hopkins said. “We’ve been trying to tell everybody about how much we believe in her. I was really happy she was able to have that day from three.”

The shots fell on Saturday for Stokes, who helped the Liberty keep pace with the defending champion Mystics. Even in defeat, the New Yorkers were happy to revel in Stokes’ big day.

“We’ve been seeing her shoot the ball like that in practice since we got here, since day one,” Nurse said. “We’ve been really encouraging her to keep shooting it and knocking down three’s like we know she can. It was fun to see her go on that little run she had today.”

Washington (8-13) was able to secure a split in their pair with the Liberty. The Mystics are current holders of the eighth and final playoff spot in the bubble standings. They can clinch with a win in Sunday’s season finale proceedings or if the Liberty beat the Dallas Wings in the first of three games across the league (12 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go/CBSSN).

Myisha Hines-Allen had a double-double for the Mystics, tallying 25 points and 11 rebounds. Washington pulled away with a 21-11 advantage in the third quarter, with nine of the New York points scored by Stokes. The Liberty had a bit of a scare in the second quarter when star rookie Jazmine Jones left the game with an ankle injury, but she returned after the halftime break. Jones, the final pick of the WNBA draft’s first round, made her first career WNBA start.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags