New York Liberty: What’s ahead (week of May 17th)

The New York Liberty look to build on their first 2-0 start since 2016 as they enter the first full week of the 2021 season.

Three days into the 2021 WNBA campaign, the New York Liberty have earned the right to check a box on their season’s to-do list.

The Liberty (2-0) matched their win total from all of the woebegone 2020 season in the Bradenton bubble, sweeping the Indiana Fever in a home-and-home set on Friday and Sunday. Sabrina Ionescu’s game-winning triple in the final seconds allowed them to earn a 90-87 win in their full-time debut at Barclays Center before they held the lead all the way through the rematch at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a 73-65 triumph.

“It does mean something, going a whole season to get two wins versus coming out the gate the way that they did,” head coach Walt Hopkins said after Sunday’s win. “To have two wins and to come in on a back to back, for them to make the adjustments and to be able to still win on the road, it says a lot about them.”

ESM looks backward and onwards as the Liberty and the WNBA prepare to move forward on their respective 25th anniversary seasons…

Player of the Week: Betnijah Laney

Friday: 30 points (11-of-18 FG, 4-of-5 3-pt. FG), 5 rebounds
Sunday: 20 points, 4 assists

Ionescu might’ve stolen the show with her Friday heroics, but Laney was by far the most consistent shooter the Liberty had to offer. The Rutgers alumna is once again making metropolitan basketball magic, pacing the Liberty in the early going with 25 points a game (second in the league after the first three days of action). Laney is proving that the successful Most Improved Player campaign she staged in the bubble was no fluke.

“I just want to continue to get better. That’s what I’m doing, I take my craft seriously. I’m continuing to build off of last year,” Laney said on Sunday, remarking on her first two games in the New York system. “It’s a pretty free and open offense, which I think works well. For me, it’s a lot similar to the offense that I saw last year (in Atlanta). “y teammates encouraged me and they find me and allow me to, you know, get to my shots and everything.”

Number of the Week: 18

Fresh out of UCLA, Michaela Onyenwere has made an instant impact in the New York lineup. She has appeared in the Liberty’s opening five in each of her first two contests and has tallied double figures in both appearances. The 18 she had on opening night in Brooklyn set a new team record for most points in a freshman debut, breaking a three-year mark held by Kia Nurse.

They Said It

“Simply put, she’s a bucket. In the first game, she did a pull-up and I was like, she is so good. Nobody came, nobody can guard Betnijah. She’s just so versatile, and her pull-up is always on, and even if it’s not, she finds other ways to get to the basket and facilitate…It’s just so cool. She’s definitely a vet that I can look to and ask questions, tell me where I need to be…She’s hard to guard and she’s just all around just a great teammate.”Michaela Onyenwere on Betnijah Laney

“I think already having two and a half games under my belt from last season, I think that was what I needed, being able to see play against some top teams. I think that kind of gave me some confidence coming into this season and just understanding my role on this team, what we’re trying to accomplish, what I can do to help others, and what all of us can build together. So I’m definitely not taking that for granted.”-Sabrina Ionescu on how her brief time last year helped in her 2021

Standings

W L GB
1. Connecticut 2 0
2. LIBERTY 2 0
3. Dallas 1 0 0.5
4. Chicago 1 0 0.5
5. Seattle 1 0 0.5
6. Phoenix 1 1 1
7. Minnesota 0 1 1.5
8. Atlanta 0 1 1.5
9. Las Vegas 0 1 1.5
10. Washington 0 1 1.5
11. Los Angeles 0 1 1.5
12. Indiana 0 2 2

The Week Ahead

Tuesday vs. Minnesota

(7 p.m. ET, YES App/ESPN3)

The first Walt Hopkins Bowl in Brooklyn stages the head coach and assistant Shelley Patterson against their former colleague and Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve. This game will also mark Minnesota assistant coach and Hall of Famer Katie Smith’s first visit to a New York basketball arena since she was relieved of her duties as Liberty head coach after two seasons in 2019.

The Lynx (0-1) are coming off a narrow loss to Phoenix on Friday night, as Diana Taurasi’s buzzer-beater negated an 18-point showing from Aerial Powers, who made her Great Lakes debut after parts of three seasons in Washington. Minnesota (14-8 last season) swept both matchups from the Liberty last season by a combined 56-point margin.

Friday @ Washington

(7 p.m. ET, YES)

The Liberty will face off against Tina Charles for the first time since the franchise’s all-time leading scorer was dealt for picks that eventually became Jazmine Jones and Michaela Onyenwere. Washington (0-1) played their first game in DC since they clinched the 2019 championship on Saturday, falling to Chicago 70-56. They welcomed in Charles but are still without 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, who is recovering from back surgeries.

Last season’s pair in Bradenton was split evenly, with the Liberty earning their first win of the year on August 7. Layshia Clarendon put up 14 points and six assists in the victory.

Sunday @ Chicago

(1 p.m. ET, ESPN)

A battle between New York and Chicago will have a strong Oregon feel to it, as Eugene gamechangers Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard will do battle for the first time. A showdown with the Sky produced the other of the Liberty’s Ionescu-free wins last season, as Clarendon put in 17 points, ending with the game-winning free throws, en route to a 101-99 win. Jocelyn Willoughby shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in the same game.

Chicago is one of the WNBA favorites this season with Windy City native Candace Parker in tow. She tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in the opening win over the Mystics, aided by 19 more from Kaleah Cooper.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Joyner Holmes history not enough for New York Liberty

Joyner Holmes led a stellar day off the bench for the New York Liberty, but another tough loss awaited nonetheless.

Rookie history wasn’t enough to keep the New York Liberty away from another tough loss as their WNBA bubble experience comes close to popping.

Joyner Holmes became the first New York rookie to register a double-double with at least 13 points and 13 rebounds, but the Phoenix Mercury countered with a season-best 30 points from Skylar Diggins-Smith en route to an 83-67 victory in Bradenton. Phoenix also enjoyed 15 points from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and 13 rebounds from Brianna Turner.

“I knew I had to show up for my teammates in general. I think I did a pretty good job of that tonight,” Holmes said. “I really enjoy (the coach’s system). We just got to find our spots and keep moving. We can’t become stagnant, because that’s when we take possessions off. But, in general, I think the system is really good, especially with the players that we have. We can get good shots.”

The theme of growth continued in another loss for the Liberty (2-16). New York shot 4-of-32 from three-point range but Hopkins was pleased with the team’s lack of resistance to shoot with open looks. He made it clear that he was unwilling to trade instant wins for future development through his offensive gameplan.

“We’re generating so many good looks. There’s so many good looks from three,” Hopkins said. “Our percentage wasn’t stellar, and it’s gotten worse. But the thing we’re trying to get to here is a way to determine how to get those looks when we do have our fresh legs and shooters in there. They’re really doing a great job creating these shots. They’re just not dropping.”

“The fact they’re staying confident and continuing to shoot those shots is great. It’s frustrating to not make them. I’m as frustrated as anybody that they’re not going down. But I’m also probably more proud than most people because they’re sticking with it. That says a lot. They’re sticking with the system on both ends.”

Saturday’s effort was helped by the bench. The Liberty scored 42 off the bench with Holmes reaching double figures with Kia Nurse (11) and Jazmine Jones (10). New York’s bench efforts became necessary after further tough injury breaks. Starter Paris Kea was forced to leave the game in the first quarter after

Holmes took center stage in the fight, making team history in the process. By the end of the third quarter, Holmes’ rebound tally of 13 tied a New York rookie record previously set by DeTrina White back in 2004. Her matching point and rebound tallies were good for career-highs. Holmes was originally drafted by Seattle in the second round of April’s draft and joined with the Liberty after her release.

The historic rebounding effort headlined a strong night on the boards overall. New York had a season-high 21 rebounds, led by six from Jocelyn Willoughby (who had a career-high nine rebounds total. Yet another rookie, Leaonna Odom, had seven rebounds and earned strong reviews for the defensive job she did on Phoenix’s legendary shooter Diana Taurasi. With Odom covering her, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer had only nine points, her first game under 10 since July 29.

Phoenix (12-7) used efforts from former Liberty representatives to their advantage. Walker-Kimbrough was originally part of the Liberty’s haul from Washington in the trade that sent Tina Charles to the nation’s capital but she was later dealt on draft night for the rights to Willoughby. Bronx native and former Liberty first-round choice Kia Vaughn had 12 points to go with eight rebounds. The Mercury are currently fighting for one of the WNBA’s top playoff spots and currently sit a game-and-a-half out of fourth place, which would net them a first-round bye. Saturday’s loss officially eliminated the Liberty from playoff contention.

The Liberty begin their final stages of the bubble endeavor on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go/CBSSN). Los Angeles previously took a 93-78 decision on August 11.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Five reach double figures in latest loss

The New York Liberty’s competitive loss to Chicago saw a silver lining of five different New Yorkers score at least 10 points.

The New York Liberty forced the Chicago Sky into some low-percentage shots on Thursday night in the Bradenton bubble. But such a term may well not exist in the Sky’s glossary.

Chicago sank 11 of their first 19 three-point attempts on the evening, keeping a resilient Liberty effort at bay in what became a 101-83 victory. Azura Stevens led the way with 25 points while Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot had 19 each (the latter also earned a double-double with 10 assists).

Despite the loss, members of the Liberty (1-11) seemed comfortable with the effort against one of the WNBA’s elite.

“I’m really proud of the team,” head coach Walt Hopkins said of the effort in a postgame Zoom call. “Chicago’s a heck of a team. They shot the heck out of the ball tonight and made us pay for some lapses in our defense. But what’s been missing is our group believing in themselves, I think. They found that again tonight. Their energy was fantastic. Even when they were making mistakes, their energy was there.”

“Today, we bounced back. We definitely found our identity again,” Jazmine Jones added. “We played hard the whole game. We kept fighting. Chicago, they had a great shooting night. Almost everything they shot went in. But I feel like we played good, we played hard. It’s just about taking that next step, and consistency too. It’s all about being better in practice tomorrow and the next game on Saturday.”

Prior to Thursday’s game, Hopkins was hoping to recapture the spark the Liberty displayed at the start of the month. They earned their lone win of the season to date against defending champion Washington in the span, but the past two games were a struggle. New York had tallied only 64 points in each of their past two games.

But with the exception of a 34-23 deficit in the second quarter, the Liberty only trailed the Sky (9-4) by five after the three remainders. Five players reached double figures for New York, paced by Jones’ 18. It’s the fifth straight game that the 12th overall pick of April’s draft has tallied at least 10 points. Jones has averaged 15.2 points per game in that span.

Behind Jones, Kiah Stokes had a season-high 14 and fell one rebound short of a double-double. Kia Nurse had 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Layshia Clarendon (12 points) and Amanda Zahui B (11) rounded out the list. Nurse would go on to call it the Liberty’s best offensive performance of the season.

“I think we took good shots, we created good shots for other people,” Nurse said. “We moved the ball really well and our offense looks probably the best that is has all season.”

“That’s huge for us moving forward, just knowing and seeing this as a baseline for us, essentially, in knowing what people can do. People played to their strengths today. Jaz is great in the mid-range pick and roll, and that’s what she did for us today, she got to the line. Stokes was great in the post and running in transition. I think that continued throughout the game, that everybody got a little confidence, so hopefully, that continues and that we grow together and build.”

The Liberty won’t have long to wait for another chance at the Sky, as the squads are due for a rematch on Tuesday night. It’s possible Chicago could be without All-Star Diamond DeShields for the second get-together. The third overall pick of the 2018 draft left the game in the first half after landing awkwardly after a shot attempt. DeShields was helped off the court and did not return to the game.

In the meantime, the Liberty will take on the Connecticut Sun on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, CBSSN/Fox Sports Go) for the first of two meetings.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

A’ja Wilson’s big day ended the New York Liberty’s chances at starting a winning streak on Sunday late afternoon in Bradenton.

The New York Liberty’s good fortune ended on Sunday evening against Las Vegas.

A’ja Wilson’s game-winner with 6.9 seconds remaining capped off a 31-point performance from the WNBA’s leading scorer. It allowed her Las Vegas Aces to survive another strong effort from Amanda Zahui B and the Liberty, who fell just short of starting a winning streak in a 78-76 heartbreaker in the Bradenton bubble.

“I thought our team deserved to win that game. I thought our players deserved to win,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said. “(Las Vegas) is a potential title team, this is a team that can be in the WNBA Finals. This is an extremely talented, well-coached team and we played them to the very end. We played them to the last possession.”

Coming off their first win of the season on Friday night against Washington, the Liberty (1-6) carried momentum into their Sunday showdown. They led for a majority of the game, going toe-to-toe with one of the league’s most complete teams. New York even led by as many as 12 throughout the course of the game.

Amanda Zahui B once again rose to the occasion with the Liberty missing both Sabrina Ionescu and Kylee Shook (right foot). The Stockholm-born interior threat picked up where she left off from Friday’s double-double performance, sinking six three-pointers over the first three frames. It was one short of the team record Zahui B tied during a 37-point performance in Los Angeles last season.

“We put ourselves in a great position to win,” Zahui B noted in her availability. “Keep pushing, keep building. I think the first thing we said when we got to the locker room was that we have really grown from our first game. If this had been a week ago, we could’ve lost by 30. We fought through the whole game, stayed together, and we got to keep on building. We’re a young team, nobody believes in us, and we’ve got to earn everything.”

Foul trouble, however, proved to play a role in the Liberty’s downfall. Picking her fourth infraction in the midway stages of the third, Zahui B took to the bench, allowing Las Vegas (5-2) to eat into the Liberty lead. Wilson tallied 18 points in the second half and visited the foul line 12 times, missing all but one of her attempts. Vegas also enjoyed late heroics and forced turnovers from veteran newcomer Angel McCoughtry.

The Liberty still had an opportunity to escape with a victory after Wilson’s heroics. Kia Nurse’s would-be winner fell short but was touched by Las Vegas as it went out of bounds. The Aces’ defense thwarted Layshia Clarendon’s ensuing inbounds pass, but New York still had 0.5 seconds to work with. Another attempt saw a Clarendon inbound go to Leaonna Odom, who put in the apparent equalizer, but the clock had been started before the ball was touched, forcing yet another retry.

One last Vegas swat sealed the deal, and the Aces earned their fourth consecutive victory.

“We should be playing overtime right now,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know if it was a scoreboard malfunction or if it was actually the scorekeeper who started it early. I would guess it’s the scorekeeper because it’s not automated. So somebody made a really big mistake and stole the game from us.”

Despite the loss, the Liberty felt that they had several positives to work with. Clarendon tallied 15 points and fell two rebounds short of a double-double, while rookie free agent Joyner Holmes had an infantile career-best 11 points. Kiah Stokes had a season-best 12 rebounds, her best output since returning to the Liberty lineup after sitting out last season.

“I think we’re more focused, especially on the little things,” Stokes said. “We weren’t going as hard as we could. I think we really made an effort over the last couple of days to do the little things, especially clean up turnovers, box out. Obviously, we still have things to work on, but now we’re in games and winning games. It stinks that we lost today but it’s a step in the right direction and it shows how good we can be.”

The Liberty and Aces will meet up again on August 29. New York’s season will continue against Western Conference competition on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

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

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Back in the lab #LibertyLoud🗽

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

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

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

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@kianurse x @sabrina_i, get used to it 💥🗽

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Day 1 done. 🎤 🔥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The WNBA season is scheduled to open on July 25.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags