Laney, Whitcomb rep New York Liberty at the WNBA All-Star Game

The New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas, which saw the league’s brightest stars take down Team USA.

The resurgent New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA’s All-Star proceedings at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

Betnijah Laney partook in the winning efforts for the league’s victorious All-Star group, who earned a 93-85 win over the United States Olympic team bound for Tokyo. Laney, the Liberty’s leading scorer at the halfway mark, put up four points, two assists, and a rebound toward the triumph. Meanwhile, Sami Whitcomb put forth a very respectable effort in the WNBA MTN DEW 3-Point contest, earning 26 points through cashing in on the “money” balls worth extra points. It was Whitcomb’s first appearance in the contest, which was won by Allie Quigley of Chicago.

This marked the third time that the league staged a “Team USA vs. WNBA” format, though the first two were not officially considered All-Star Games. New York City hosted the original matchup in 2004 at Radio City Music Hall prior to the Summer Games in Athens, while Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena got the latter in 2010, a non-Olympic year. This marked the WNBA squad’s first win, as they were paced by 26 points in an MVP effort from Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas.

Laney mostly played the backup point guard role behind Courtney Vandersloot, earning nearly 17 minutes of game action. Wednesday marked Laney’s first career appearance in the WNBA All-Star Game. She’s working through her first season in New York after winning the Most Improved Player honor in last year’s bubbled season in Bradenton as a member of the Atlanta Dream.

The well-traveled Laney was particularly enthused by the chemistry she had with the rest of the WNBA squad, as she had worked with several of them in prior professional stops.

“I kind of knew everybody, considering I’ve bounced around quite a bit, so I’ve had experience playing alongside a lot of the people that I was playing with today,” Laney said with a smile. “It just felt like home, it felt it was it was really fun and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to play with them all again. I’m really glad that we came together and got the win tonight.

Laney was far from alone in representing the New York resurgence; teammates Reshanda Gray Michaela Onyenwere sat courtside with assistant coach Jacki Gemelos, whie Sabrina Ionescu watched with Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa and her mentor’s surviving daughters. Meanwhile, Rebecca Lobo called the game alongside Ryan Rocco for ESPN. Lobo, an original member of the Liberty, was also honored alongside other members of the 1996 United States women’s basketball contingent, whose gold medal trek from the Atlanta Games celebrates its 25th anniversary.

“I found (the experience) amazing, just for myself to just be here in this moment, you know, after everything,” Laney said after the game. “Then to have the support that I had from the team, from my family, and friends, it was just a really good experience.”

The Rutgers alumna was particularly happy to work with former collegiate and AAU teammate Kahleah Copper.

“It was really fun because this was the only level that we haven’t played on together,” Laney said of the Chicago representative. “To be able to have that opportunity out there today, you know, it was fun. I really enjoyed playing alongside her.”

Whitcomb had her time to shine at halftime, partaking in her first three-point competition. The WNBA’s leader in successful three-point attempts (56) was representing Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based non-profit that “provide(s) safe inclusive shelter and services that support women, children and families on their journey out of homelessness”. The winning shooter would receive $10,000 toward a charity of her choice.

Whitcomb’s work was immediately cut out of for her, as Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones immediately tallied 27 points in the opening round. But Whitcomb came tantalizingly close to passing her, giving a whole new definition to “Moneyball”. Whitcomb sank the money ball shot worth two points toward her tally, as well as one of the “Dew Zone” attempts worth three. With the top half of the four competitors set to advance to a final round, Whitcomb seemed well on her way, soundly beating former Seattle Storm teammate Jewell Loyd (18).

Alas, she was done in on the literal last shot, as Quigley sank her final money ball to tie Jones before winning the contest by a 28-24 margin, appropriately earning her third three-point trophy.

Team USA was paced by 17 points from Brittney Griner of Phoenix. They’ll remain in Las Vegas for further training, which includes exhibitions against Australia and Nigeria, before opening Olympic play on July 27 against the latter (12:40 a.m. ET/tape delay: 4:15 p.m. ET, USA). USA has been paired in a group with Nigeria, France, and host nation Japan.

Other Liberty representation in the Tokyo Games includes Rebecca Allen of Australia and international holdovers Marine Johannes (France) and Han Xu (China).

The Liberty return to action on August 15 against the Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty’s Han Xu speaks out against anti-Asian racism

Han, a New York Liberty fan favorite and native of Hebei, spoke out against attacks against Asian-Americans.

Han Xu of the New York Liberty took to Instagram to address anti-Asian racism in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

A native of the province of Heibei, Han posted a prior statement from the Liberty that condemned an influx of attacks on Asian-Americans in New York City. Hundreds appeared in Lower Manhattan on Saturday to protest for justice when a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed in Foley’s Square. A 23-year-old man turned himself into the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office three hours later.

“It is frightening and upsetting to see the rising hate crimes and attacks against the Asian American community and in particular in New York, a community I love,” Han wrote in her accompanying caption. “We all need to show solidarity for those being targeted and take action to stop this horrific violence. Please be kind to one another.”

The Liberty released their statement on February 19, which included contact information to both activist groups and law enforcement agencies to report and csuch xenophobic crimes.

While hate crimes and discriminatory behavior against Asian Americans have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, sadly, they are not new,” the Liberty statement reads. “Regardless of the cause of these heinous acts, the New York Liberty organization stands vehemently against racism, xenophobia, hatred, and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We will not ignore this issue and will continue to use our platform in the fight for justice and equality for all people.”

Han’s statement comes in the wake of statements from former Knicks and Nets guard Jeremy Lin, an NBA veteran of Chinese descent. Lin, currently competing with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA G League, recently reported that he has faced racist taunts on the court, with unnamed opponents referring to him as “coronavirus”. The NBA is investigating the situation.

Han, 21, joined the Liberty as the 14th overall pick of the 2019 draft. She and Shao Ting were the first Chinese-born players to partake in WNBA regular season action since Chen Nan in 2009. Han was also the second Chinese-born pick in draft history and the first since Zheng Haixia of Los Angeles in 1997.

In her first season, Han put up averages of 7.9 minutes and 3.0 points. She became a fan favorite during her rookie campaign, drawing loud cheers when she entered games at Westchester County Center. Han’s propensity to shoot from three-point range drew the loudest applause, as she sank

Han notably came up big during the Liberty’s first unofficial game at Barclays Center, scoring 19 points in a come-from-behind victory in an exhibition against the Chinese national team. She did not partake in the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton but has remained active through local league and national team endeavors. Notably, she appeared alongside Ting and New York teammate Rebecca Allen on the all-tournament team at the end of the 2019 Asia Cup in Bangalore, where Han took part in a silver medal effort, China’s best finish since 2015.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags