New York Liberty First-year head coach Katie Smith, and soon to be a 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, announced her first official roster Thursday evening. The former assistant and associate head coach for the Liberty will return 10 players while coaching two additions for the first time. With Smith wrapping up her first training camp at the helm, the two-time champion hopes to use the foundation of the discipline instilled in practice, veteran leadership and continuity to push New York to new heights.
The Liberty return a bulk of its roster from a season ago headlined by Tina Charles. The centerpiece is coming off of her eighth season in the league where she was named First Team All-WNBA and runner-up in the WNBA Most Valuable Player race.
Smith began. “Tina is obviously an elite basketball player and on top of that is great person. It is nice to rely on her and have her as that go-to person. With her skill-level and ability, she is going to demand a lot of attention and it is great to have someone you can rely on in tough situations. With [Shavonte] Zellous and Marissa [Coleman] also having championship experience, having that veteran leadership at the core is crucial.”
Kia Nurse (2018 first-round pick, 10th overall) is the lone rookie on the squad and she will look to earn minutes against an otherwise experienced backcourt. New York’s guard play also features 2017 Sixth Woman of the Year Sugar Rodgers, Epiphanny Prince, Bria Hartley, Rebecca Allen and Brittany Boyd.
For the past two seasons, Rodgers has averaged double-figure point totals draining .380 of her looks from deep. Prince (12.0 pts, 2.89 asts) and Hartley (7.3 pts, 2.05 asts) will compete in their fourth and second respective Liberty seasons. Rebecca Allen contributed 2.8 ppg last year. After being sidelined for a majority of the 2017 season, nursing a left achilles, Boyd looks to re-enter the lineup for the first time in over a year.
The trio of Charles, Zellous and Coleman combine for 26 years of experience in the WNBA. Coleman will represent the Liberty for the first time this season, but her versatility and size can massage her transition since the Liberty pride themselves on their quick adjustments and being able to put a variation of lineups onto the hardwood.
“Our team is versatile no matter which position you look at. Our guards have size and our bigs can adjust. We can have Coleman at the four or even have Nurse at the one. Or you can run Epiphanny at the one and go small.” Smith continued. “The gamesmanship of what is working, what will cause other teams the most problems at times, and what can help us, are all a part of how we prepare. Everybody is capable because we have a lot of pieces and things we can use to support our lineups.”
With the Liberty boasting three-straight 20-win seasons, a playoff run is presumable. But what Smith continues to preach is not so much a playoff push or even a game-by-game mentality but a diligent and detailed approach to performance in practice.
Smith stated. “Everybody wants to win a championship but how do you get there? We need to make sure we make the playoffs. Then you use your momentum and make a run. But it is the discipline that is built in practice that we are constantly stressing and putting an emphasis on because that’s how we go about doing business. We need to handle what we need to everyday and in practice, and it’ll translate into big games and big performances for us.”
22 total players participated in New York’s training camp which ranged from eight to nine-year veterans, 2018 draft picks, free agents and those monitoring lingering injuries. Furthermore, the crop frequently welcomed returners from their international club teams who faced quick turnarounds integrated immediately to the group.
Smith explained. “There’s a constant progression throughout training camp because you’re adding players as you go. You have to reteach, so there’s some continuity but there is also a lot of learning and adjusting that still takes place. Players have to still feel each other out, create chemistry and understand playing with our roster.”
Due to international club play, Kia Vaughn has missed the Liberty’s training camp but will soon join Amanda Zahui B. and Kiah Stokes, again. Vaughn put up 5.8 ppg and grabbed 4.9 boards while Zahui B. dropped 3.8 ppg and collected 1.1 rpg. Stokes averaged 4.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg and raised for 1.1 bpg.
The Liberty’s first test this season is on Sunday, May 20, as New York faces the Chicago Sky at Wintrust Arena at 7 p.m. (ET).
Smith ended. “I want them to go out and play hard. I want them to have confidence. I want us to take care of each other on both ends of the floor. I think we can get what we need to get done if we are locked in, all engaged and have that awareness. There’s going to be a lot of excitement but once we’re in-game, we still need to play with a lot of energy and that competitive spirit from start to finish. No matter who is on the floor, we’re supporting each other.”
For the 2018 home opener at Westchester County Center, the Liberty welcome the defending champion Minnesota Lynx on Friday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m.
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