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

New York Liberty fall despite WNBA history from Amanda Zahui B

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).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty fall in a heartbreaker to Las Vegas (Highlights)

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).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Walt Hopkins speaks after first day of practice

From the courts at IMG Academy, New York Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins and two of his proteges spoke after the first day of workouts.

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Back in the lab #LibertyLoud🗽

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Most New Yorkers abscond to Florida to relax, maybe even retire. The New York Liberty are doing the exact opposite.

Two weeks from Saturday, the WNBA will commence its 24th season of operation at IMG Academy in Bradenton. By the end of this weekend, each of the league’s dozen teams will have made the trip south and the Liberty officially got things rolling with their first organized workouts.

Hopkins spoke with the media afterward, enthused by the first on-court happenings. Counting Hopkins himself, the Liberty feature seven rookies on their roster, not counting ninth overall pick Megan Walker (who has not reported to Florida after testing positive for COVID-19). That group is headlined by top overall selection and queen of the NCAA triple-double Sabrina Ionescu. If videos shared by the Liberty’s official accounts are any indication, it appears that Ionescu is already forming a rapport with All-Star teammate Kia Nurse.

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Day 1 done. 🎤 🔥

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“It was a really good first day,” Hopkins remarked in a Zoom teleconference. “Having young legs, having people who aren’t used to what the WNBA normally looks like, this is an experience for them no matter where we’re playing or what the conditions are. It’s been nice. The energy has just been so positive and the older players on the team have really been good in terms of bringing them along and really being supportive. We have a great group.”

Hopkins takes over the Liberty duties after three seasons as an assistant with the Minnesota Lynx (ironically, former Liberty head coach and Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Katie Smith took Hopkins’ seat on the Lynx bench). He hails from Brooklyn, where the Liberty were set to christen Barclays Center as their new home arena before the pandemic forced the league to form the bubble at IMG.

Save for losing his voice in crowded surroundings, as the Liberty’s competition is likewise preparing, Hopkins is pleased with what he’s seen in the so-called “Wubble”.

“It could be a consequence of having more than half the team be rookies, but they don’t look like rookies,” Hopkins said. “They don’t like scared or have the blank look on their face when you’re trying to explain an action or they don’t understand terminology. I think (thanks to) the lead-up that we had, discussions with our quarterback club and Zoom meetings, and things like that, the familiarity with what we’re doing has been really high. We’ve been able to dive right in.”

The feeling was mutual amongst Hopkins’ freshest newcomer, Joyner Holmes. A Texas alumna, Holmes was added to the team after reserve forward Rebecca Allen opted out of the 2020 proceedings.

Holmes explained that Hopkins and his rapid approach to the game was one of the biggest things that attracted her to New York. She was originally chosen in the second round of April’s draft by Seattle (19th overall) but was let go in the first series of roster cuts to ensure players would receive their full salaries.

“The coaching staff, for me, was a really big plus,” Holmes said. “I like Walt a lot. He’s really free-range and willing to let us do whatever, try to follow his system. That was a really big target for me.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by Joyner’s skillset because she got to show it off a bit at Texas,” Hopkins added. “She’s really skilled. She really does have guard skills for her size (6’3), she can play multiple positions, guard multiple positions. She’s an eager learner, has totally bought in and responded to anything we’ve needed. We’re really excited about her.”

Along for the ride is a select handful of veterans, including center/forward Kiah Stokes. Things are just a little bit different since Stokes last wore the Liberty’s brand of seafoam green. Stokes is returning to WNBA action after taking a year off from New York exploits for personal reasons. Having last donned the Liberty colors in 2018, Stokes will be joined by only two comrades from that squad. She’s particularly close to both, as she’ll be reuniting with Nurse, a fellow champion from the University of Connecticut. Stokes will also be manning the interior with center/forward Amanda Zahui B.

The all-time leading blocker in WNBA history only turned 27 in March but is the second-oldest member of the modern Liberty behind free agent addition Layshia Clarendon (29). Stokes said she will be embracing her role as a new team leader.

“I’m looking forward to it. Me, Zahui, and Kia kind of joke about it, we’re the vets now, though we’re pretty young,” Stokes said with a smile. “It’s crazy to think how much our team has changed already. But I’m really looking forward to it. I think it will help push me to become a better player, a better leader.”

Along with Clarendon, Stokes is also a rare member of the Liberty who has experienced the joy of the WNBA Playoffs. In her rookie campaign of 2015, Stokes was the heroine of an Eastern semifinal, win-or-go-home matchup with Washington, sinking the layup that put the Liberty ahead for good and blocking the Mystics’ attempt at tying the game on their final possession.

“I think this is going to be a fresh start. When I came into the league, we were pretty good and then we kind of had a falling off. But I think this is just a brand new start. We have the opportunity to make a statement. Such a young team can grow together, build together and I think that if we all just buy in and work really hard, we can become something really, really special.”

The WNBA season is scheduled to open on July 25.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty start to make their way to the WNBA bubble

Members of the New York Liberty have descended upon IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida as the WNBA prepare to open a 22-game season.

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. 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 CDC’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 of WNBA players who continue to lead with their inspiring voices and effective actions in the league’s dedicated fight against systemic racism and violence,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a league statement. “Working together with the WNBPA and the teams, the league aims to highlight players’ social justice efforts throughout the 2020 season and beyond.  Systemic change can’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.”

The league’s schedule is expected to be released at a later date.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags