A complete roster breakdown of the 2021 New York Liberty

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

As the New York Liberty prepare to make their Brooklyn debut, ESM has everything you need to know about their opening day lineup.

New York City-branded basketball being played in New York City…groundbreaking concept, isn’t it?

Following two years of Westchester County exile and a pandemic-induced trip to Florida to compete in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble, the New York Liberty return to action within city limits on Friday night against the Indiana Fever (7 p.m. ET, YES/NBA TV). With the WNBA celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Liberty likewise celebrate theirs as one of three original franchises that remain in the markets in which they began. Aligned with the Brooklyn Nets ownership group, the Liberty will now call Barclays Center their full-home after two previous decades at Madison Square Garden.

Though the Liberty have yet to capture an elusive WNBA title, they remain one of the league’s most storied franchises, with Tina Charles, Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, and Rebecca Lobo being among the legendary faces of basketball to traverse the New York hardwood. The team entered a period of rebuilding, its most recent edition in Florida coming under first-year head coach Walt Hopkins Jr.

The rebuild cratered last season to the tune of a Floridian ledger of 2-20, but New York management was enthused by the moral victories they took with them. Hopkins has established a new order focused on defense and fearless shooting, with the proceedings set to center around 2020’s top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. The touted Oregon Duck was limited to only three games due to an ankle injury, but positives emerged through other rookies like Jazmine Jones and Leanna Odom.

This offseason, the Liberty made several moves that are set to add to the team’s win total. They signed 2020’s Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney from Atlanta and acquired Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb, and their five championship rings among them from Seattle. Such moves caused nearly half of the WNBA’s dozen general manager to label the Liberty as the most improved team heading into Friday’s tip-off events.

The preseason accolades, however, mean little, if anything, to Hopkins:

“How can we be the most improved team when we haven’t played a game?” Hopkins rhetorically asked on Thursday. “We still have a lot to prove to ourselves in terms of our capacity now to apply what we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks…“You’re going to hear me as a broken record all year talk about focusing on our day to day and our controllable. You won’t hear me too often acknowledge expectations as being something that we’re focused on here.”

Meet the 2021 New York Liberty below…

(*-Unavailable until further notice)

F Rebecca Allen*

College: Australia
Experience: 6th season
2019 Stats: 7.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG

Allen seems tailor-made to play in Walt Hopkins’ system: she’s a tenacious defender with a sense of fearless shooting, a trait well on display in her most recent campaign in New York. Prior to opting out of the 2020 season, Allen set a record by putting up 20 points in a single quarter en route to a career-best in scoring. She kept up the good work through overseas action in Spain, where she averaged a team-best 11.5 points for Valencia BC.

Hopkins will have to be a little patient for Allen to make her debut, as her extended international endeavors made her a late arrival to the prep for an American title. With the departure of close friend Amanda Zahui B, Allen is now the longest-tenured member of the Liberty, having arrived as a free agent in 2015.

G Layshia Clarendon

College: Cal-Berkeley
Experience: 9th season (2nd in New York)
2020 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 3.9 APG

One of the WNBA’s most outspoken players in off-court issues (sitting on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council), Clarendon was a rarity on last year’s Liberty roster as a player with at least a half-decade of professional experience. Their services in the Bradenton bubble went far beyond simple veteran mentorship, as they put up a career-best in scoring and played a major role in the New York offense when Sabrina Ionescu went down with an injury. It marked a strong return to the court for Clarendon, who was limited to nine games in 2019 due to an ankle injury of their own.

With several new veterans in two, Clarendon will likely serve as a spark and de facto fifth coach off the bench.

F Natasha Howard*

College: Florida State
Experience: 8th season (1st in New York)
2020 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG

With the Liberty eager to clog up their porous defense (allowing over 85 points per game over the last two seasons), there was perhaps no one better to call than Howard, one of the most fearsome defenders in the Association since her 2014 entry. It cost a hefty price…the Liberty shipped off the top overall pick of April’s WNBA Draft and All-Star Kia Nurse in the three-team deal to obtain her…but Howard, a Hopkins protege during a championship trek in 2017 with the Minnesota Lynx, promises to be well worth it.

Among the accolades in Howard’s packed trophy closet are three championship rings (including one from the bubble as a member of the Seattle Storm), the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year title, and a pair of All-Defensive First Team nods. She’s been a part of three of the last four WNBA championship efforts. It might take a little longer to get back to those levels in New York, but the Liberty’s investments make it clear they want her to play a huge part in that.

G Sabrina Ionescu

College: Oregon
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG

It’s a little early to crown Ionescu the face of the WNBA…after all, she only has three games under her belt, having suffered an ankle injury in only her third professional excursion. But the walking college basketball record book is back for what basically amounts to a second rookie season and is dangerously motivated.

While Ionescu’s impact on a national level can’t be fully assessed just yet, there were plenty of tantalizing glimpses of her hardwood heroics on display in her brevity. Notably, she put 33 points in just her second career contest against Dallas (squaring up against fellow Eugene standout Satou Sabally). Time will tell how long it takes for her to regain her elite form, but there’s no doubt that the journey will be watched by anyone with a passing interest in what lies ahead for a league celebrating its silver anniversary.

G Jazmine Jones

College: Louisville
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 10.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG

Last season, a New York Liberty rookie, chosen at one of the bookends of the all-virtual draft made a major difference in one of the guard roles. She saw her efforts rewarded with a spot on the league’s official All-Rookie team. Unpredictably, however, the player in question was not Ionescu but Jones, the 12th and final pick of 2020’s opening round.

Jones was another player who filled Ionescu’s sneakers, taking over a point guard role she hadn’t played since her high school days at Florida A&M Developmental. She wound up leading all rookies in steals (1.4 a game) and was one of six to earn double figures in scoring. Her energy, constantly captured through the team’s social media accounts, would likely top charts if there was a number able to be attached to it.

F Betnijah Laney

College: Rutgers
Experience: 6th season (1st with New York)
2020 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG

Laney knows a thing or two about making an impact through basketball in the tri-state area. She previously a hoops heroine in Piscataway, where she played under the legendary C. Vivian Stringer, setting Scarlet Knight records in the process.

“Character” has been one of the most prominent buzzwords during the training camp process. Laney more than fulfills that trait through her work in the bubble. Having survived transfers to three different WNBA squads over her first four seasons, Laney broke out as a member of the Atlanta Dream in Bradenton, more than tripling her previous career-best output in scoring. The Liberty would certainly know about her breakout: Laney’s trek toward Most Improved Player honors began when she earned her first career 30-point game in a July win against New York.

F Leaonna Odom

College: Duke
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG

Time will tell, but Odom could wind up becoming one of the most valuable diamonds in the rough to emerge from the bubble. The Liberty’s latest draft pick from last year’s sizable haul (15th overall) developed a notorious reputation as a strong defender, frustrating some of the league’s most notable names, including Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner.

Alas for the Liberty, they’ll have to wait a little bit to see Odom resume her defensive prowess. The team announced on Thursday that she’ll miss tonight’s opener with an Achilles injury.

F Michaela Onyenwere

College: UCLA
Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG

The Liberty’s 2021 draft class isn’t as plentiful as last year’s group, but talent was certainly not sacrificed in the smaller settings. Their first pick was the former Bruin Onyenwere (pronounced On-yen-way-day) with the sixth overall choice.

Onyenwere has a prime opportunity to contribute immediately to Liberty’s hopeful surge. She fulfills the team’s requirement for fearless shooting, as she departed UCLA as the fourth-leading scorer in program history and tried nearly 200 three-pointers over her final three seasons. But with Howard and Stokes’ debuts unscheduled, Onyenwere could be called upon to make a difference in the interior, as she put up over eight rebounds a game during her sophomore and junior seasons.

G/F DiDi Richards

College: Baylor
Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats: 6.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG

By every stretch of the basketball imagination, Richards shouldn’t be suiting up for her WNBA debut in Brooklyn. A freak accident in an early practice at Baylor nearly left her paralyzed and she was medically advised to realistically start thinking of career options beyond the hardwood.

However, Richards went to check off another box on the Liberty’s shopping list for character, working her way back and resuming her role as a strong defender. She brings a national championship ring from her sophomore season and three Defensive Player of the Year titles from 2020. Richards more than made up for lost time once the season began, finishing second in the nation with 189 total assists.

F Kylee Shook

College: Louisville
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 4.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG

Immediately after picking Jones (as well as COVID-sidelined second overall choice Asia Durr in 2019), the Liberty continued to treat UL as a de facto farm team by taking Shook with the first pick of the second round.

Shook deal with a late injury, but has taken on a larger role in her second season. Several of the younger players, and even some veteran newcomers, have praised Shook for helping them get used to the system. With Stokes and Howard’s debut in question and Amanda Zahui B off to Los Angeles, Shook is expected to take on a major role in the interior.

C Kiah Stokes*

College: Connecticut
Experience: 6th season
2020 Stats: 6.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG

The only leftover from the Liberty’s “baby vet” dwelling in Bradenton (Zahui and Kia Nurse being the others), Stokes’ status will fluctuate throughout the season, as she’s finishing her international duties while also preparing to partake in Turkey’s EuroBasket plans. However, it’s clear that the Liberty have high hopes for her, signing the long-tenured interior prescience to a new contract before last season ended.

Though Stokes’ should return to being a strong paint presicence with Zahui B now out west, the New York coaching staff was very enthused by her newfound liking for outside shooting. No one embraced the Liberty’s new tenet of fearless shooting like Stokes, who did not partake in any 2019 action for personal reasons. She put up 85 attempts from deep last year after trying only three in the four years prior.

G Sami Whitcomb

College: Washington
Experience: 5th season (1st in New York)
2020 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG

It’s almost somewhat easy for Whitcomb to get lost in the Liberty’s stellar transaction log, but she provides accomplished veteran intangibles through both American and Australian endeavors. Whitcomb was another member of the defending champion Storm (though she did not partake in the championship round due to the birth of her first child) and came over with Howard, with whom she likewise collaborated on a 2018 triumph in the Finals.

Whitcomb is on the shortlist of WNBA stars that already know how to make a difference at Barclays Center: she sank a career-best seven field when Seattle came to visit in the building lone regular season game in 2019.

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 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 release statement amidst WNBA’s “day of reflection”

The New York Liberty have released a statement in support of social justice in the midst of Thursday’s postponements in the WNBA.

The New York Liberty have released a statement in the wake of ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice across the professional sports leagues of the United States.

The statement opens with the names of African-American victims of systemic racism and how long it has has been since the respective crimes. Perpetrators of the crimes in question, particularly have yet to face legal repercussions.

“While we will not take the court today, we will continue to stay loud in our pursuit of justice. The New York Liberty organization stand in solidarity with our players and demand justice for #JacobBlake, #GeorgeFloyd, #BreonnaTaylor, #AhmaudArbery, and the many human lives affected by brutal police encounters. We will not be silenced. All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter.”

New York was originally set to play on Thursday night against the Dallas Wings, but the WNBA has confirmed that no games will be held. Three games were scheduled for Thursday in the league’s Bradenton bubble, including one between the Chicago and Indiana and a late-night tilt featuring Las Vegas and Seattle. All postponed games, including three others from Wednesday, will be rescheduled.

Thursday was set to be the Liberty’s annual “UNITY Day” game, with a special focus on social justice. The team hosted a panel on Wednesday late afternoon, featuring guard Layshia Clarendon. New York was among the country’s first professional sports teams to publicly advocate for social justice, wearing warm-up shirts reading “#BlackLivesMatter” prior to a 2016 game.

Each of the WNBA’s dozen teams has worn uniforms bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Louisville police officers executing a no-knock search warrant. The officers in question have not been arrested.

“As the injustices persist, so does the work,” the statement says. “Today marks what should have been the Liberty’s 4th annual UNITY Day game which is devoted to telling Breonna Taylor’s story and highlighting the #SayHerName campaign. In light of today’s protest, our UNITY Day will be rescheduled at a later date.”

Clarendon was among WNBA representatives who spoke with ESPN’s Holly Rowe about the decision not to play. Each of the players present wore shirts calling for the arrest of Taylor’s killers. The team has united with the #SayHerName campaign for thier 2020 bubble proceedings to spread awareness and information of racial injustice and to encourage voting in national and local elections.

“It is important to note that this is not a strike, this is not a boycott. This is affirmatively a day of reflection, a day of informed action and mobilization,” Los Angeles Sparks forward and WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike said. “Today, we call upon Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to arrest the officers that killed Breonna Taylor. Today, we call upon Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul to investiage the officers that were involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake.”

Those stationed at the Bradenton bubble also hosted a players-only meeting and candlelit vigil.

Members of the Liberty have continued to speak out against racial injustice throughout the year. The incident involving Blake in Kenosha, Minnesota has been no exception.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty’s comeback effort falls just short against Indiana

A combined 41 points from Kia Nurse and Layshia Clarendon weren’t enough for the New York Liberty to overcome a double-digit deficit.

The New York Liberty continue to put up solid 25-30 minute efforts in a most unusual WNBA season, but the cruel reality is that professional games last 40.

Kia Nurse and Layshia Clarendon united for 41 points, but the Liberty were unable to erase a deficit that got as high as 16, falling to the Indiana Fever by an 86-79 final on Thursday night in the Bradenton bubble. Tiffany Mitchell led the way with 19 points for Indiana, while the unrelated Kelsey Mitchell had 18 more.

“(Indiana) is good. They got to the rim. Our bigs were afraid to leave their (assignments) because of the offensive rebound ability,” head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom call. “I thought the rhythm the Mitchells set really set the tone.”

The Liberty (1-8) fell behind early, trailing 27-17 after the first quarter. Their halftime deficit was 11, but the remainder of the game was played mostly in the close confines of single digits. New York was able to get as close as five in the third quarter and whittled it all the way down to two in the latter stages. A late defensive lapse, however, allowed the Fever (4-5) to escape with a win.

Kelsey Mitchell, mostly held in check after 13 points in the first half, provided the dagger with a three-pointer that made it 82-77 with 31 seconds to go. New York allowed only 35 points in the second half after trailing 51-40 at halftime.

Clarendon scored quickly on the other side, but Indiana sank their free throws to close it out.

The unfortunate part for the LIberty was that their strong showing came as Nurse, a 2019 All-Star, began to find a bit of a stride. She shot only 4-of-15 from the field but she found new ways to contribute, complimenting a season-best 21 points with six rebounds. Nurse also got to the foul line 12 times, converting all but one of her attempts.

“She’s still putting in the work,” Clarendon said of Nurse’s efforts. “She had a conversation with Coach Walt with what else she can be doing. She had six rebounds and played with a lot of energy and hustle. She’s finding ways to impact the game.”

“Outside of shots falling, Nurse played really, really well,” Hopkins added. “On a night when shots weren’t falling, she found a way. That was impressive.”

Rookie Jazmine Jones also reached double-figures (11 points) for the second straight game after tallying a career-best 24 on Tuesday against Los Angeles. Both Clarendon and fellow veteran Kiah Stokes each played nearly 37 minutes, with Stokes tallying nine points on a career-best three triples.

Two of the Liberty’s past three losses have come by single digits. They’ll get another chance against Indiana on September 10.

The Liberty return to action on Saturday for a rematch with the Minnesota Lynx (6 p.m. ET, CBSSN). Minnesota won the first of two matchups on August 5, using a strong third quarter to earn a 92-66 triumph.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty credit special team meeting as inspiration behind big win

Head coach Walt Hopkins credited a moving team meeting as the source behind the New York Liberty’s first win in the WNBA bubble.

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. 

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).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty show fight sans Sabrina Ionescu, Kia Nurse (Highlights)

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty were missing two of their star attractions on Friday night, but still took the Atlanta Dream to the brink.

The New York Liberty lost two of their star attractions to injury on Friday night, but still managed to give the Atlanta Dream all they could handle.

Rookie Jazmine Jones led the Liberty with 20 points off the bench after fellow first-year and top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu was lost to an ankle injury in Friday’s tilt against the Atlanta Dream in the bubble at IMG Academy. Atlanta eventually prevailed by an 84-78 final, but the Liberty’s valiant effort without Ionescu and Kia Nurse was encouraging after a one-sided defeat to Dallas on Wednesday.

“We battled most of the game,” head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom conference. “The way that we fought pretty much across the board with our team was impressive and exciting. We responded to the things that we talked about and the things that we worked on. It was good.”

Ionescu, coming off a 33-point showing, rolled her ankle in transition midway through the second quarter. She was helped off the court by a trainer and teammate Leaonna Odom and was and did not return to the game. Hopkins said that Ionescu was likely taken to a local hospital for x-rays, which revealed no fracture and came back negative according to Shams Charania of ESPN. She had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting prior to her forced departure.

Nurse missed the first game of her three-year WNBA career, suffering an ankle sprain of her own in the Liberty’s opening game last weekend.

Friday presented a roller-coaster affair for the Liberty (0-3) who found themselves trailing 12-0 at the midway stage of the opening frame. The scoring efforts of Ionescu and Kylee Shook allowed the Liberty to trim the lead to 22-16 and even took the lead early on in the second thanks to the efforts of an all-rookie lineup. When Ionescu went down, Jones and Layshia Clarendon, a rare New York veteran, helped keep the Liberty in the game.

The rookie Jones, chosen with the final pick of the first round out of Louisville, added two blocks and two steals to her infantile career-best in scoring.

“We have a mindset, all the rookies especially, that when we get in the game, just run up and down the court, be relentless, be tough,” Jones said. “We’re very talented from top to bottom. In our heads, we feel like we have the better bench per say, because we have a lot of rookies that can play multiple positions. It’s just fun that we have this kind of team, that the coaches can put us in different kind of alignments to be successful.”

Atlanta (2-1) threatened to pull away again in the third quarter, again going on an early run and holding the Liberty scoreless for over the first five minutes. Their lead summited at 14 points, but the Liberty once again made things close. New York whittled the lead all the way down to three in the penultimate minute of the game, but the Dream was able to finally hold them off. Rutgers alumna Betnijah Laney tallied a career-best 30 points while Elizabeth Williams had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds). April’s fourth overall pick Chennedy Carter fouled out but tallied 17 points.

Clarendon reached double-figures for the third straight game with 16 points, while rookie Layshia Clarendon earned 14 in defeat.

The Liberty and Dream will square off again on September 3.

New York will wrap up a stretch of three games in five days on Sunday afternoon when they battle the Phoenix Mercury (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty host virtual Juneteenth panel, advocate for voting and speaking out

The New York Liberty hosted a panel commemorating the emancipation holiday, featuring newcomer Layshia Clarendon.

The New York Liberty aren’t letting a suspension of on-court activities prevent them from making a difference in their restored metropolitan settings.

As the nation celebrated Juneteenth, the date marking the emancipation of freed slaves in the United States, New York’s WNBA squad hosted a virtual panel entitled Freedom, Justice, Equality, and the Power of Our Vote. Liberty newcomer Layshia Clarendon was among those who sat on the panel alongside fellow Brooklyn playmaker Garrett Temple of the Nets.

Proceedings were moderated by Angela Yee, host of The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 (WWPR-FM), and other contributors included Ladies of Hope Ministries founder Topeka K. Sam and rapper Rapsody, who introduced the Liberty’s new theme song last season.

While the Emancipation Proclamation was introduced by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the isolated slave state of Texas continued the practice for two more years before Union troops occupied the state at the end of the Civil War. The announcement of General Order No. 3, which freed all remaining slaves in Texas took place on June 19, 1965. Six months later, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except as punishment for a crime). New York is one of four states to recognize the day as a holiday along with Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Clarendon remarked that there is a long way to go in terms of national equality. To ensure the changes toward that endgame, the Cal-Berkeley alumna encouraged listeners to vote.

“The system is operating by design. The system’s not broken, it’s operating exactly how it was built to operate: keep (African Americans) complacent, to not have us show up and vote, to tell us we can’t vote,” she said. “Your vote does matter, and we need you to participate within the framework we have…we have to do what we have to do in the moment we have until we get to the point where we can recreate the structures to a point where we want them to be.”

“People fought and died, so many folks before us didn’t have a chance to vote,” she continued. “I will never not vote because of the people who fought for me to show up and vote.”

Clarendon, 29, is set to partake in her first season with the Liberty if and when the 2020 campaign commences. She has already been one of the WNBA’s most active off-court voices in terms of social issues and causes and shows no signs of relenting if an on-court platform will be granted.

“(The WNBA is full of) the people who have been doing this work the whole time,” she said. “What’s really cool about our league it that it’s authentic to who we are. Every player in our league has some type of passion that they want to speak out about, something that they care about and is doing in their community.”

Having announced a plan of return last week, the WNBA declared that any potential would be dedicated to promoting social justice. Clarendon believes that such a return can be a “unique opportunity” to spread their message further and dispel the notion that athletes must supposedly stick to sports.

“It’s interesting that we have this moment to come back now and I think that it’s really unique that all eyes are looking for sports to return,” she said. “Are you going to be engaging with us all the work that we’ve done? I think that we have an opportunity.”

“I’m making sure that you cannot make this just about sports, just about basketball because we refuse to just be the Black bodies that entertain you.”

Clarendon will return to the Liberty’s virtual channels this week, as the team hosts several further virtual panels centered on LGBT+ issues. She is set to take over the Liberty’s Instagram Live account on Monday before joining teammate Amanda Zahui B and chief operating officer Keia Clarke for an activism-centered discussion on Tuesday. Further details can be found here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags