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Hopkins shuffles Liberty coaching staff amid roster reboot

Kelly Raimon and Dustin Gray to serve as assistants under new regime

April 23, 2020 John Torenli
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Less than a week after a historic draft haul, which included two-time Wooden Award winner Sabrina Ionescu, the Brooklyn-based New York Liberty on Wednesday added two new assistants to head coach Walt Hopkins’ staff.

Former Las Vegas Aces assistant Kelly Raimon and Performance Enhancement Specialist Dustin Gray will be on the Liberty bench alongside previously hired assistant Shelley Patterson at Downtown’s Barclays Center whenever the 2020 WNBA season begins.

“We are extremely excited about the diversity of experiences, skills, and ideas that Kelly and Dustin bring to the Liberty organization,” said Hopkins, who was hired back in January.

The league announced earlier this month that training camp and the regular season, originally slated to start May 15, will be indefinitely postponed as developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that hasn’t prevented the Liberty from transforming their roster over the past several weeks, trading star center Tina Charles to the Washington Mystics on April 15 and releasing veteran guard Brittany Boyd on Tuesday.

“Brittany has been a valuable member of the Liberty for the past five seasons,” said New York General Manager Jonathan Kolb in a team-issued statement.

“However, we are going in a different direction at her position and wanted to give her ample time to pursue other opportunities across the league,” he added. “We wish her nothing but the best.”

Last Friday night in the first-ever virtual draft of its kind, the Liberty selected Ionescu, the University of Oregon standout who racked up a record 26 triple-doubles during her brilliant NCAA career, with the first overall pick.

New York also picked University of Connecticut forward Megan Walker (ninth overall) in the first round and traded with the Phoenix Mercury for the 10th overall pick, Jocelyn Willoughby of the University of Virginia.

University of Louisville standout Jazmine Jones was selected 12th overall by New York before the Liberty took her Cardinal teammate, Kelly Shook, with the first pick of the second round.

Duke forward Leonna Odom went to New York late in the second round before the Liberty drafted Erica Ogwumike of Rice University with their final pick and promptly traded her to the Minnesota Lynx for forward Stephanie Talbot.

That’s a lot of new players for a franchise that is trying to shake off finishing with the second-worst record (10-24) in the league a season ago and hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2017.

Hopkins, who served as an assistant for the Lynx before replacing Katie Smith at the helm ahead of the team’s first season here in Brooklyn, believes the additions of Raimon and Gray will help with the roster transition.

“Between Dustin’s elite understanding of player development and team X’s and O’s, and Kelly’s valuable perspective as both a coach and former player, we’re rounding out our coaching staff with a pair of very talented, high-character people,” he said.

Hired back in January to lead the New York Liberty into their first season here in Brooklyn, Head Coach Walt Hopkins rounded out his staff this week after an historic virtual draft night last Friday. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Raimon, who worked under former Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer the past two years in Las Vegas, helped the Aces to a combined record of 35-32 during that time, including a 2019 WNBA Playoff run that ended in the conference finals.

Prior to her time in Vegas, she served as a Team Development Coach and Advanced Scout for the Chicago Sky in 2017.

Raimon also had a nine-year career in the WNBA, including stints with the Indiana Fever (2001-2005), Liberty (2006), Mercury (2007) and Detroit Shock (2008). She won back-to-back WNBA Championships in 2007 and 2008 with the Mercury and Shock, respectively.

Gray is a certified Performance Enhancement Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, having worked as a contractor with world-renowned EXOS, where he was responsible for designing and conducting performance enhancement programs for future NBA players.

Most notably, Gray worked with Kevin Love, Luc Mbah a Moute, Chase Budinger, Brandon Jennings and DeMar DeRozan in preparation for the NBA Draft.

He went on to found his own player development and training organization, Playmakers Basketball Club, where he has worked extensively with NBA players including Rudy Gay, Quincy Pondexter, Ish Smith and Kendall Marshall.

The WNBA also announced that it is continuing scenario-planning for new start dates and innovative formats for a potential 2020 campaign.

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