New York Liberty: Nayo Raincock-Okunwe skipping another WNBA season

Raincock-Ekunwe, a New York Liberty representative since 2017, will turn her focus toward Canada’s Olympic efforts.

In an interview with CBC Sports, New York Liberty forward Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe confirmed that she will sit out the 2021 WNBA season. The Toronto-born veteran has expressed her desire to focus on the Canadian national team’s Olympic endeavors at the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo.

“The plan this year is to forego the WNBA season again and to play with Team Canada for the whole summer, not miss any of our training camps leading up to the Olympics,” Raincock-Ekunwe told Myles Ditcher. “(I am) fully committed to Team Canada.”

Raincock-Ekunwe, 29, joined the Liberty in 2017 and has played two seasons with the team. In that time, she has averaged 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds over 11 minutes per game. During the latter campaign in 2019, Raincock-Ekunwe developed a strong rapport with fellow Team Canada representative Kia Nurse and then-rookie Marine Johannes.

Though Raincock-Ekunwe will not partake in the Liberty’s 2021 affairs, she did extend some kind words to the New Yorkers in Ditcher’s report. New York endured a 2-20 season during the WNBA’s bubble season in Bradenton, Florida last year, but are set to welcome back touted 2020 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu. The top overall choice and Oregon alumna was lost to the season with an ankle injury sustained in only her third career game.

“I think they’re making some moves this year that will be big, that will be beneficial for the team,” Raincock-Ekunwe said. “Sabrina being healthy and with the rookies they had last season getting some experience last year, I think it will be a great year for New York. So yeah, it’s tough to turn down the opportunity to play in one of the best leagues in the world. But I think Canada has a really good opportunity this summer.”

Raincock-Ekunwe was one of several New York veterans that sat out of the bubble season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, joining Asia Durr, Rebecca Allen, Marine Johannes, and Han Xu.

In the meantime, Raincock-Ekunwe is currently partaking in overseas action with LDLC ASVEL Féminin in France, alongside Johannes and Alysha Clark of the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm. She mentioned that she endured a milder case of COVID-19 during a pause in the international season, but told Ditcher she is “not feeling any side effects”.

Team Canada is looking to earn its first-ever Olympic medal, its best finish being fourth during the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Raincock-Ekunwe previously partook in the most recent showing in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, where Canada placed seventh. More recently, Raincock-Ekunwe was a major factor in clinching a spot for the Tokyo Games. Canada’s undefeated three-game stretch in a qualifying tournament in Ostend, Belgium last February allowed them to clinch one of the dozen spots in the delayed Omypics. The team originally got to the Belgian qualifiers through a three-game showing in Raincock-Ekunwe’s home province of British Columbia. She notably wowed the Edmonton crowd with a double-double showing (27 points, 11 rebounds) in an 84-80 win over Puerto Rico.

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: Becky Hammon comments on history in San Antonio

The New York Liberty legend became the first woman to serve as a head coach of one of the “Big Four” American sports leagues.

From Rapid City to Manhattan to her current settings to San Antonio, Becky Hammon has always had a knack for making basketball history. Her latest accomplishment is one that will leave a lasting impact on the American sports scene.

Earlier this week, Hammon became the first woman to serve as a head coach in America’s so-called “big four” professional sports when she took over duties for the San Antonio Spurs’ Wednesday tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers. Hammon took over midgame when longtime San Antonio boss Gregg Popovich was ejected.

“It’s a substantial moment,” Hammon said after head coaching debut, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. I’ve been a part of this organization, I got traded here in 2007, so I’ve been in San Antonio and part of the Spurs and sports organization with the Stars and everything for 13 years. So I have a lot of time invested, and they have a lot of time invested in me, in building me and getting me better.”

Hammon, one of the most prolific players in the history of the New York Liberty, has been an assistant on San Antonio’s staff since 2014. She is the second female coach in NBA history, following only Lisa Boyer’s single-year on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench during the 2001-02 season. Prior to her Wednesday endeavor, Hammon guided the Spurs’ Summer League squad to a championship in 2015.

“The guys responded great. I thought we gave ourselves some chances. We battled back multiple times,” she said in McMenamin’s recap. “I think it was business as usual. They’re used to hearing my voice in practice.”

Though San Antonio fell by a 121-107 final, the impact of Hammon’s trailblazing was not lost on the competitors.

“The future is bright for her,” said Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, who scored a game-best 29 points, per Victor Mather and Marc Stein of the New York Times. “I hope she just sticks to it and doesn’t give up. One day it may happen, it may not happen, who knows, but she’s definitely on the right road.”

“It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets,” Lakers star LeBron James added in the Times’ report. “She’s very passionate about the game. So congrats to her, congrats to our league.”

Hammon has had a strong rapport in San Antonio basketball since she was traded to the now-defunct Silver Stars in 2007. Popovich brought her aboard in 2014 after she spent some time at Spurs practices which recovering from in injury during the latter days of her WNBA career.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to her. I pay attention to all those little things,” Murray said, per McMenamin. “She’s been here since I got here. I’ve been watching her talk to every single player, whether he was a veteran dude or a young dude. Just using her voice and her knowledge of the game.

“I love Becky to death. We are really, really close. She texts me on holidays to ask about my daughter, and I ask about her kids. I appreciate her. The future is bright for her. I hope she sticks to it and doesn’t give up.”

Hammon is the most recent inductee into the Liberty’s Ring of Honor, earning entry in 2015 after an eight-year career in New York (1999-2006). She currently ranks fourth all-time in Liberty scoring (2,367) and third in games played (227).

Hammon and the Spurs (2-2) are battling the defending champion Lakers in the latter half of a pair at the AT&T Center on Friday night with their next tilt coming against the Utah Jazz on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Southwest).

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 

BREAKING: New York Liberty win No. 1 draft pick for 2021

For the second straight year, the New York Liberty will choose first in the WNBA’s draft proceedings, set to be held next spring.

The New York Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second consecutive season, earning the top overall pick for a selection process set to be staged next spring.

New York cashed in on their top odds (44.2 percent), coming out on top of the four-team sweepstakes amongst the non-playoff participants. The Dallas Wings will choose second, while the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever round out the top quartet. Last season, the Liberty chose Oregon recordbreaker Sabrina Ionescu with the topic pick. She was limited to three games due to an ankle injury, but managed to briefly impress, scoring 33 points in her second career game.

The lottery was held during halftime of the nationally televised matchup between No. 5 Louisville and No. 20 DePaul. Louisville, which has three representatives on the Liberty roster (Asia Durr, Jazmine Jones, and Kylee Shook), took control in a 116-75 victory in a game held at Mohegan Sun Arena.

General manager Jonathan Kolb represented the team for the second straight season. Upon earning the top overall pick, Kolb said the first thing he envisioned was “Sabrina jumping up and down on her healed ankle”.

“I was trying to contain my own excitement,” Kolb said with a smile in a Zoom press conference call after the reveal. “I was mostly happy for the fans, the fans that have been ride or die with this team since 1997 deserve this. They deserved it last year. I think if you really look at the trajectory of this franchise, where it’s going from an ownership, front office, coaching standpoint, now player acquisition standpoint. This is exciting, it’s an exciting time to be a fan.”

Inside the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble, the Liberty finished a league-worst 2-20 sans Ionescu for a majority of the year, but enjoyed contributions from several rookies. Jazmine Jones, the final pick of last season’s first round, was named to the league’s All-Rookie team while filling in for Ionescu at point guard. Seven rookies partook in at least one game for the Liberty, a situation brought upon by several regular players (including Rebecca Allen, Marine Johannes, Han Xu, and 2019 second overall pick Asia Durr) opt-out of the proceedings. Several players have moved on overseas, where they’re competing in foreign leagues.

Kolb remained in a celebratory mood, but he expressed hope that draft lottery night would not be the only be the only time that the Liberty would be in the headlines far more often.

“We have an exciting opportunity for a hybrid rebuild…we can be super competitive while bringing the Liberty down the road for the future,” Kolb said. “In free agency, we’re going to be really aggressive…I don’t think tonight is the only night we’re going to be in the news over the next few months.”

The date for the 2021 draft has yet to be determined.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty legend Vickie Johnson to take Dallas HC job (Report)

An original star of the New York Liberty is set to take her second head coaching job after spending the past 15 years with the Aces franchise.

Per Chantel Jennings of The Athletic, New York Liberty legend Vickie Johnson is set to become the new head coach of the Dallas Wings. Johnson, 48, would be the 11th head coach of a franchise that began life as the Detroit Shock in 1998.

The Coushatta, Louisiana native has spent the past 15 years in some capacity with the Las Vegas Aces franchise, which was previously known as the San Antonio Silver Stars (later simply known as the Stars). She spent the final four seasons (2006-09) of her WNBA career with the team before serving as an assistant coach under Sandy Brondello (2010) and Dan Hughes (2011-16). Johnson would later oversee the final season in San Antonio (2017), going 8-28 before the team moved to Las Vegas. She was retained over the last three seasons on Bill Laimbeer’s staff, working alongside another Liberty alumna, Tanisha Wright, in the last.

Johnson began her WNBA career as an original member of the Liberty, drafted by the team in the “elite” portion (reserved for players who had previously played internationally) of the inaugural draft in 1997. Working with fellow former Louisiana Tech Lady Techster Teresa Weatherspoon and several others, Johnson helped the Liberty reach four of the first six WNBA Finals (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002). The team earned a franchise-best 21 wins in 2001, a record that stood until 2015. Johnson reached two All-Star Games as a member of the Liberty (1999, 2001). Upon her departure in 2005, she was the Liberty’s all-time leading scorer with 3,246 points, which was broken by Tina Charles in 2019. Johnson remains the Liberty’s all-time leader in games played (282) and is one of five players in the team’s Ring of Honor (joining teammates Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, Kym Hampton, Rebecca Lobo, and Sue Wicks).

In joining Dallas, Johnson inherits the only team in the WNBA that’s younger than the Liberty in terms of age. No one on the team has more than four years’ experience in the WNBA, the roster headlined by 2020 first-rounders Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, and Tyasha Harris. Sabally was the second overall pick in last April’s draft, chosen immediately after the Liberty took her Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu at No. 1. Also present is Arike Ogunbowale, the 2019 Rookie of the Year. Johnson takes over for Brian Agler, who went 18-38 in two seasons at the helm. Johnson will also be the first Black female to service in a head coaching capacity since Pokey Chatman in Indiana (2016-19).

The Liberty and Wings will each partake in the 2020 WNBA Draft Lottery on Friday night, set to be held during halftime of the college basketball game between Louisville and DePaul (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). New York will own the best odds in the lottery with a 44.2 percent chance of gaining the top overall pick. General manager Jonathan Kolb is expected to represent the team.

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: Teresa Weatherspoon earns a promotion in New Orleans

New York Liberty legend Teresa Weatherspoon will serve as a full-time assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy.

Teresa Weatherspoon and a Van Gundy indirectly united to create hardwood magic at the turn of the century in the Big Apple. That magic is on its way to the Big Easy.

The New Orleans Pelicans announced a series of adjustments to their coaching staff on Monday, headlined by the promotion of Weatherspoon, who will take a full-time assistant coach position with the NBA franchise. She will work under newly-minted head coach Stan Van Gundy, the brother of former New York Knicks boss Jeff, whose New York tenure (1996-2001) overlapped with Weatherspoon’s glory days.

Weatherspoon, 54, joined the team last season as a player development coach and spent her time between the Pelicans and the Erie BayHawks, their G League affiliate. Now, Weatherspoon becomes the eighth woman to serve on an NBA bench, joining fellow Liberty legend and longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon.

Weatherspoon partook in the first seven seasons of Liberty basketball (1997-2003), appearing in five WNBA All-Star Games and three WNBA Finals. She is perhaps best known for launching the most famous shot in WNBA history, a desperation three-pointer from beyond half-court that allowed the Liberty to steal a Finals win from the Houston Comets in the 1999 championship series. Weatherspoon also earned the first two WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards and currently ranks 12th all-time in assists (1,338) and 21st in steals (465). Induction into the Naismith Memorial Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame awaited Weatherspoon last season. She has since been named to the WNBA’s anniversary teams in 2011 and 2016.

Weatherspoon retired after a single season in Los Angeles in 2004. Since then, she has been involved in several coaching positions, including a variety of front office and player development roles with the Liberty in the six seasons before receiving the call from New Orleans. She also served as the head coach at her alma mater of Louisiana Tech for five-plus seasons (2009-14), taking them to a pair of NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournaments (2010, 2011).

Another New Orleans hire with a local connection is Beno Udrih, The two-time NBA champion and former first-round pick spent part of last year’s shortened G League campaign with the Knicks’ affiliate in Westchester as an assistant, his first coaching position.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Original New York Liberty head coach Nancy Darsch passes away at 68

Darsch led the New York Liberty in their first two seasons and partook in the inaugural WNBA Championship in 1997.

Former New York Liberty head coach Nancy Darsch passed away on Monday at the age of 68. Darsch was the original coach of the franchise upon its inception in 1997, sitting at the helm for two seasons. She was said to be battling Parkinson’s disease.

“The New York Liberty join the basketball community in mourning the loss of the franchise’s first-ever head coach, Nancy Darsch,” the Liberty wrote in a team statement. “Coach Darsch led the Liberty for two years, including the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997. We are grateful for Nancy’s leadership as a pioneer of this game. Her contributions to the advancement of both collegiate and professional women’s basketball, and her passion for the game will forever be felt.”

Darsch and the Liberty earned the first win in WNBA history in June 1997, as they topped the Los Angeles Sparks 67-57. The Liberty finished 17-11 in that opening season and partook in the inaugural WNBA Championship, then a one-game playoff, against Houston at the end of the year. They were able to improve their tally to 18-12 the following season, but lost out on a return trip to the playoffs through a tiebreaker. Darsch then became the head coach of the Washington Mystics, lasting two seasons in the nation’s capital before the rest of her WNBA career featured assistant coaching stints in Minnesota and Seattle. In the latter stop, Darsch was on the bench for the Storm’s second WNBA Finals victory in 2010.

Prior to her New York endeavors, Darsch was best known for her time as the head coach of Ohio State’s women’s basketball program (1985-98). Under her rule, the Buckeyes reached the NCAA Tournament in each of her first five seasons at the helm and appeared in the national title game in 1993. Darsch previously as an assistant under Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee and later briefly returned to the college bench at Boston College (2006-07). She also played an active role in international hardwood affairs with Team USA, earning a pair of Olympic gold medals as an assistant coach (1984, 1996).

Tributes have poured in for Darsch across the basketball world on social media.

“I was always listening Coach Darsch!” former Liberty star Teresa Weatherspoon wrote on Instagram. Thank you for everything you’ve done in this game of basketball and for the impact you’ve had in so many lives, especially mine. Thank you for understanding my passion and allowing me to be me. NY LIBERTY FOR LIFE! WE LOVE YOU!!! Rest now Coach!!!”

Former Liberty head coach and Ohio State alumna Katie Smith left a multi-photo tribute, reminiscing on the pair’s successful endeavors in Columbus.

“You coached and were friends with the best, won at all levels but Nancy you were an even better person and friend,” Smith wrote. “Her smile, playful punch and just genuine caring spirit will be missed by many.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags