WNBA unveils their plan for a Florida-based return

The WNBA rolled out a plan for return on Monday, which involves players getting 100 percent of their salaries and social justice initiatives.

The WNBA is inching closer to tip-off after a Monday announcement, in which the league revealed that it is closing in on an agreement to stage a 22-game season without fans at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Players are set to receive their full 2020 salary and benefits, according to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“We are finalizing a season start plan to build on the tremendous momentum generated in the league during the offseason and have used the guiding principles of health and safety of players and essential staff to establish necessary and extensive protocols,” Engelbert said in a statement. “We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan.”

“Despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic to our 2020 season, the WNBA and its Board of Governors believe strongly in supporting and valuing the elite women athletes who play in the WNBA, and therefore, players will receive their full pay and benefits during the 2020 season.”

The WNBA’s 24th season of competition was originally scheduled to begin on May 15 but was indefinitely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual draft was help without incident in April with the New York Liberty choosing Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu with the top overall pick. The Washington Mystics are the league’s defending champions, having taken a five-game set from the Connecticut Sun last fall. Over the offseason, the league and its player’s association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that includes new benefits such as increased salaries ($68,000 being the new veteran minimum) and full paid maternity leave.

IMG is a private preparatory boarding school and sports training facility based in Bradenton. The 450-acre property will serve as the site for games, practices, and housing for each of the league’s dozen teams. League statements indicate that they will be in constant contact with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials to ensure the plan can be safely conducted.

The league will also include “a devoted platform led by the players that will aim to support and strengthen both the league and teams’ reach and impact on social justice matters”. Numerous players, including Kia Nurse and Amanda Zahui B of the local Liberty, have spoken in support of the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality against African-Americans. This support will continue on the court if and when the games get rolling in Bradenton.

“The WNBA opposes racism in all its forms, and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are the latest names in a list of countless others who have been subject to police brutality that stems from the systemic oppression of Black Lives in America,” Engelbert said. “It is our collective responsibility to use our platforms to enact change.”

“In our discussions with the league, we emphasized and they agreed that a strong commitment to a 2020 season will give the WNBA the chance to show the world that it's taking the steps needed to secure our livelihood and well-being, while also providing the opportunity to amplify our collective voice,” WNBPA President and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike added. “This is not only necessary from a humanitarian perspective, but it may be one of the biggest opportunities that this league has and will ever have.”

While a starting date has not been announced, Engelbert told Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press that she’s hoping that her original target start date of July 24 (six days prior to the tentative resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando) “will stick”. A potential postseason would follow the WNBA’s traditional playoff format, in which the top eight teams advance regardless of conference. The top couple earns byes to a best-of-five semifinal round while the first two runners-up get a single bye to the single-elimination quarterfinals. They play the winners of a five vs. eight/six vs. seven single-elimination first round en route to the WNBA Finals.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 




Meet the 2020 New York Liberty

After yesterday’s mandated roster cutdowns, the New York Liberty are at a dozen players ready to do battle if/when the 2020 season commences.

If and when we get a 2020 WNBA season, the New York Liberty will be ready.

The team announced several roster moves this week, waiving veteran interior prescience Reshanda Gray and declaring that international young stars Marine Johannes and Han Xu would remain overseas. These transactions put the Liberty in compliance with WNBA roster procedures, which dictated that teams had to trim their roster to a dozen players at most. Such a declaration ensures players will be paid beginning on June 1.

New York’s roster certainly looks a little different from when we last saw them. The face of the franchise and all-time leading scorer Tina Charles was dealt to the defending champions in Washington. Tanisha Wright retired and fellow veteran Brittany Boyd was waived. Another guard, Bria Hartley, signed with the Phoenix Mercury.

In their place, the Liberty are now a squad that consists of the mandated 12 players…half of which are rookies. What will new head coach Walt Hopkins be dealing with when they get back to action? Meet the team below….

G/F Rebecca Allen

Experience: 6th season
From: Australia
Acquired: 2015 free agent

A Victoria, Australia native, Allen earned the nickname “Spida” for her tenacious defense. But Allen began to turn heads during a 2019 breakout campaign that saw her set a new career-best in scoring (7.2 points per game) and finish fifth in the WNBA’s three-point percentage rankings (.426). In an August tilt against Minnesota, Allen set a franchise record with 20 points in a single quarter, two short of the WNBA record set by Diana Taurasi. Entering her sixth season in seafoam, Allen is now the longest-tenured New Yorker after the departures of Charles and Boyd.

G Layshia Clarendon

Experience: 8th season
From: Cal-Berkeley
Acquired: 2020 free agent

The newly acquired Clarendon (most recently of the Connecticut Sun) is the most tenured member of the Liberty as she enters her eighth season of action. Injuries limited her to nine games last season but she has been highly regarded for her leadership skills on and off the court. Clarendon was a first-round selection of the Indiana Fever in 2013 and reached the WNBA All-Star Game proceedings as a member of the Atlanta Dream four years later. Her resume also boasts experience with the United States national basketball squad, helping them capture the gold medal in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Tenerife, Spain.

G Asia Durr

Experience: 2nd season
From: Louisville
Acquired: 2019 1st-round pick (2nd overall)

The hype over Ionescu has some hidden the fact that the Liberty are set to welcome back another top-two pick. Injuries would cost Durr nearly half of her rookie season, but she managed to provide a preview of what’s to come during her abbreviated debut. Of note, Durr put up a career-best-to-date 20 points in one of her first starts, a 75-69 triumph over Minnesota last June. Durr, along with teammate Kia Nurse, is also one of the newest athletic faces of the Jordan Brand, becoming the second and third WNBA players to don the Jumpman logo.

G Sabrina Ionescu

Experience: Rookie
From: Oregon
Acquired: 2020 1st-round pick (1st overall)

We could list every collegiate accolade that Ionescu earned during her time in Eugene, but, alas, we’re not paid by the word. To sum it up, Ionescu is the first top overall pick in Liberty history and the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles (26, more than double her closest competitor). Among her potential carry-on luggage on her flight to New York will be a trio of Pac-12 Player of the Year trophies and Nancy Lieberman Awards (awarded to women’s Division I basketball’s top point guard), as well as the most recent Player of the Year titles from the Naismith committee and the Associated Press. A sign of potential things to come were on display when Oregon took on Team USA in an exhibition last winter; she tallied 33 points and the Ducks dealt the Americans their first loss to a college team since 1999.

G Jazmine Jones

Experience: Rookie
From: Louisville
Acquired: 2020 1st-round pick (12th overall)

Chosen with one of the picks acquired from the Charles trade, Jones is a former teammate of Durr with the Cardinals (despite earning a scholarship offer from ACC competitor Florida State in the eighth grade). She enjoyed a breakout season in her final year in red, averaging a career-best 14.1 points and appeared on the premier editions of the All-ACC and ACC All-Defensive squads. The Jones family is certainly no stranger to athletic heroics. Jazmine’s sister GiGi partook in hardwood exploits at Appalachian State and Jacksonville and her brother Reginald Jr. was a tight end at Florida A&M.

G Kia Nurse

Experience: 3rd season
From: Connecticut
Acquired: 2018 1st-round pick (10th overall)

If there’s a veteran face of Liberty basketball, it probably would be the Hamilton, Canada native Nurse. She partook and start in every Liberty game last season and broke out to the tune of 13.7 points per game and her first WNBA All-Star Game appearance (named a starter for Elena Delle Donne’s squad in the latter). Nurse would also partake in the league’s three-point competition, having ranked sixth in successful attempts (65). The extended hiatus has been any but an offseason for Nurse. She has become the Liberty’s social media star, hosting the socially distanced talk show “Kickin’ It with Kia” on the New York accounts and recently took home MVP honors in Australia’s WNBL as a member of the Canberra Capitals.

F Leaonna Odom

Experience: Rookie
From: Duke
Acquired: 2020 2nd-round pick (15th overall)

Another ACC-spawned defensive lockdown artist, Odom developed a scoring game during her latter seasons in Durham. The California native not only averaged a career-best 14.3 points in her senior season and also finished fourth in the ACC with a 54.7 field goal percentage. She also served as a flexible option, playing four different positions on the floor last year. Her defensive prowess put her on numerous award watch list (particularly the Cheryl Miller and Kartina McClain accolades bestowed to the best forwards) and her athleticism allowed her to jump up the draft board.

F Kylee Shook

Experience: Rookie
From: Louisville
Acquired: 2020 2nd-round pick (13th overall)

Another Durr teammate and Louisville alumna, Shook was another player known for her defensive prowess. Ionescu, for example, will be quite pleased to have Shook on her side in the coming years. When the Cardinals and Ducks squared off last November, Shook’s box score boasted 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Ionescu was held to 6-of-20 shooting in UL’s 72-62 victory. Shook would later become the all-time leading blocker in Cardinals history, surpassing five-time WNBA All-Star Angel McCoughtry. Her newfound ability to shoot from deep could also come up big in the new system.

C Kiah Stokes

Experience: 5th season
From: Connecticut
Acquired: 2015 1st-round pick (11th overall)

The Liberty get back an exciting interior prescience in Stokes, who partook in Turkey’s EuroBasket proceedings but opted to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season for personal reasons. Another holdover from the team’s final MSG days, Stokes is already the all-time leading blocker in Liberty history (163 over her first four seasons). More recently, Stokes has established herself on the Turkish basketball circuit, winning a pair of titles Fenerbahçe Women’s Basketball. The block master was the recipient of a new contract with the Liberty at the start of the offseason.

F Megan Walker

Experience: Rookie
From: Connecticut
Acquired: 2020 1st-round pick (9th overall)

Another rookie yielded from the blockbuster Charles transaction, Walker was a rare junior entry into the draft proceedings. She show her way up the draft board with a breakout season in Storrs, putting up 19.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, a campaign that netted her first-team All-American honors and the AAC’s Player of the Year Award. Another three-point threat, Walker should work well with Nurse, her fellow former Husky. She sank 45.1 percent of her triple attempts last season, a mark good for ninth in the nation.

F/G Jocelyn Willoughby

Experience: Rookie
From: Virginia
Acquired: 2020 trade with Phoenix

Willoughby was originally chosen with the 10th pick of the WNBA Draft, but came to New York in exchange for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough’s contract (the latter was acquired from Washington in the Charles deal). Former Liberty star and ESPN expert Rebecca Lobo noted that Willoughby “can score at a high clip and high efficiency from the three-point line” Willoughby also has a pleasant knack for getting to the foul line. She shot 87 percent from the charity stripe in her senior year in Charlottesville, reaching double-digit attempts on her own eight times.

C Amanda Zahui B

Experience: 6th season
From: Minnesota
Acquired: 2016 trade with Tulsa

Zahui B took advantage of a new opportunity when she was pressed into regular starting duties for the first time in her career last season. The former second overall pick and Stockholm native put up new career-best averages of 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds over 24 games before repping her homeland Sweden during EuroBasket proceedings. She wound up guiding the Swedes to their best-ever EuroBasket finish (5th). Back in America, Zahui B stole the show in a June win in Los Angeles, tallying the best single-game output of any 2019 WNBA player with 37 points.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags


New York Liberty: Meet the (Draft) Class of 2020

The draft dust has settled, and the New York Liberty have emerged with several young players to begin a new era.

The New York Liberty might well be America’s oldest expansion team at this rate.

New York’s WNBA franchise looks a tad different than it did a week ago, literally and figuratively. The team unveiled a new logo and uniform this week and later dealt franchise face Tina Charles to the Washington Mystics for extra draft capital. When they do get back to basketball, the Liberty will also make themselves a new home: Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. On Tuesday, the Liberty also bid farewell to Brittany Boyd, one of their longest-tenured players.

Speaking of Friday’s WNBA Draft (witness by 837,000 viewers), the Liberty were immediately able to fill Charles’ empty slot of franchise face with the addition of Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu. What do you need to know about Ionescu and her new comrades? ESM has you covered…

1st Round (1st overall): G Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon

Lottery ping-pong balls finally bounced New York’s way, leading them to one of the most electrifying players in college basketball history. Ionescu hopefully has a large carry-on bag for her eventual flight to New York, as she’ll be hauling plenty of hardware to Brooklyn. Her most recent accolades include the Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press and the Pac-12 (her third in the latter category), matching perfectly with the NCAA’s all-time lead in triple-doubles (26). When we get back to shooting again, Ionescu’s New York arrival has a chance to change not just a premier franchise, but a league entirely.

1st Round (9th overall): F Megan Walker, Connecticut

What’s a draft without representation from Storrs? With the first pick obtained in the Charles transaction, the Liberty went with one of the few early entries in Walker. Her breakout junior year paced the team with 19.7 points, and she also tallied 8.4 rebounds en route to first-team All-American honors. Walker’s scoring prowess should help a Liberty squad that struggled to consistently score in the latter stages of last season.

1st Round (10th overall): F Jocelyn Willoughby, Virginia

The Charles trade indirectly yielded the arrival of Willoughby, as the Liberty dealt the contract of former Mystic Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to Phoenix for the rights to Willoughby. Some were surprised to see Willoughby go in the top ten, but her flexibility could turn her into a diamond-in-the-rough selection. One of Willoughby’s greatest qualities is her ability to get to the foul line. Over the second half of the season, the Liberty averaged less than 15 foul shots per game. Willoughby reached double-digits on her own in six games of her senior season.

1st Round (12th overall): G Jazmine Jones, Louisville

With the second pick acquired in the Charles move, the Liberty opted to take one of Asia Durr’s Cardinal teammates. No one has appeared in more games in Louisville red than Jones, who reached the All-ACC and All-ACC defensive teams. Her shooting needs some work, but Jones nearly doubled her career scoring average in her senior campaign (14.1 PPG, good for second on the team).

2nd Round (13th overall): F Kylie Shook, Louisville

Ionescu is trying to forget the exploits of Shook, who paced the Cardinals with a double-double (18 points, 15 rebounds) in a head-to-head matchup last November that saw Louisville gave Oregon their only loss. More impressive may be Shook’s defensive abilities. She took the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and departs KFC Yum! Center as the program’s all-time leader in blocks.

2nd Round (15th overall): F Leaonna Odom, Duke

Another strong defensive talent from the ACC, Odom’s versatility (able to the one-through-four) and length (6’2 with a 27.5 vertical) makes her a solid defensive find in the second round. The versatility was on perfect display when she appeared on watchlists for the Katrina McClain and Cheryl Miller awards (earned by the nation’s top power forward and small forward respectively).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty select Sabrina Ionescu with No. 1 Pick of WNBA Draft

The Oregon alumna will don the seafoam and black of the New York Liberty next season after a record-breaking career in Eugene.

The New York Liberty have chosen Sabrina Ionescu with the top overall pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft.

Ionescu will bring a historic amount of hardware with her to New York City. The former Oregon Duck is the first player in NCAA history to earn a de facto triple-quadruple: she put over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists over her four seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s a historic night for the New York Liberty,” said Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb. “Sabrina is a generational player whose resume speaks for itself and we are thrilled to have her as our first-ever No.1 pick. We look forward to adding her to the Liberty family, as we work to reestablish ourselves as one of the top teams in the league for years to come.”

“I’m blessed. I think I’ve been working on this for my entire basketball career,” Ionescu said in a conference call shortly after he selection. “Just to see that come to fruition, I’m very humbled and excited for the opportunity.”

Ionescu’s storied collegiate career ended prematurely thanks to the NCAA Tournament’s cancellation. Nonetheless, she will bring numerous trophies and accolades with her to the east coast including three Pac-12 Player of the Year Awards, two John Wooden Awards, and a Naismith Player of the Year Award.

However, the only thing Ionescu was focused on was improving before she made her New York entry.

“I’m looking to do everything that I possibly can to get better in every aspect,” she said. “Whether that’s scoring, defending, rebounding, passing. I’m really just excited to be playing against professionals and learning from them and just seeing where that takes me.”

The Liberty will play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on a full-time basis starting with the 2020 season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags