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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 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