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New York Liberty will debut rising star Sabrina Ionescu at abbreviated season in Florida

Liberty to gather for training next month

June 17, 2020 John Torenli
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“We got next!” turned into “See you next month!” for the WNBA.

The league announced Monday its plan to begin the 2020 season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where all 12 teams, including the Brooklyn-based New York Liberty, will gather next month for training ahead of the campaign, which has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WNBA, which normally kicks into action during the NBA playoffs in May, is expected to have a 22-game regular season, a dozen contests less than its traditional slate, followed by a postseason tournament. No fans will be allowed at the IMG Academy.

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With the NBA also scheduled to begin its training camp ahead of a restart in Orlando, Florida next month, the leagues will be playing concurrently for the first time since the WNBA was founded in 1996.

“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,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert revealed.

“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,” she added.

According to the WNBA release, the league’s owners and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association agreed that IMG Academy will be the home for each of the league’s teams and serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing.

The top priority continues to be the health and safety of players and staff, and the league is working with medical specialists, public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.

Due to the fluid situation resulting from the pandemic, the league and players will continue to review the appropriate health and safety protocols and make necessary changes to the plan prior to arriving on site for the start of training camp and throughout the season.

While figuring out salary pay scales has been a sticking point in holding up the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the WNBA has assured its players that they will “receive their full pay and benefits during the 2020 season,” according to Engelbert.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will get her league’s season started next month in Bradenton, Florida, staging a 22-game campaign leading up to the playoffs. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

Brooklyn basketball fanatics won’t have to wait until 2021 to see Sabrina Ionescu, the University of Oregon standout and top overall pick in April’s WNBA Draft.

They’ll just have to turn on the television to watch the two-time Wooden Award winner in action, rather than seeing her at the team’s new home at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“The fact that I’ll be able to be in Brooklyn and have a platform and a voice in kind of the mecca of the world is going to be amazing,” Ionescu said upon being selected by the Liberty.

“I’m just excited for that opportunity, having done it in Eugene and changing the way people view women’s sports in Eugene. Just excited to take that with me to Brooklyn and hopefully use it for a bigger good in that bigger marketplace.”

The Liberty will also have new head coach Walt Hopkins and a bevy of fresh faces around Ionescu as they try to climb out of last year’s brutal 10-24 finish.

But at least they’ll get a chance to tip off prior to 2021, and hopefully the league can crown a champion by October.

Engelbert also revealed that the WNBA will use its abbreviated single-site season to build on its commitment to social justice, supporting players in launching a bold social justice platform as a call to action to drive impactful, measurable and meaningful change.

“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, and it is our collective responsibility to use our platforms to enact change,” said Engelbert.

The WNBPA doubled down on the league’s plan to use the season as a platform to raise social awareness.

“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,” said WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike.

“We have always been at the forefront of initiatives with strong support of #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, the LGBTQ+ community, gun control, voting rights, #MeToo, mental health and the list goes on,” 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.”

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