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Liberty stars bask in international glory

Ionescu, Laney grab gold at FIBA World Championships

October 6, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Denied a WNBA title after a late playoff push this past season, New York Liberty stars Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney emerged as world champions in Sydney, Australia last weekend.

Ionescu and Laney were part of Team USA’s dominant run through the recently completed 2022 FIBA World Cup down under, earning gold medals while teammate Han Xu was voted one of the tournament’s top players after settling for a silver medal with Team China.

Ionescu, a two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Month this past season in Brooklyn, finished with a combined 10 points and six rebounds during the Americans’ three-game run to a fourth consecutive World Cup title and 11th overall.

In a win over Canada, the two-time Wooden Award winner also made all the highlight reels with a one-legged, buzzer-beating 3-pointer that helped the Americans hold off their rivals from north of the border.

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Laney accumulated seven points, four rebounds and three assists for Team USA, which clinched an automatic berth in the 2024 Olympics, where it will shoot for an eighth consecutive gold medal.

“It’s really cool to have teammates here and compete against each other. It’s a great experience for all of us,” Laney told the Associated Press. “It’s definitely something that’s pretty cool to have the diversity and to come together. It does extend to our fan base.”

New York’s Betnijah Laney helped Team USA clinch a berth in the 2024 Olympics by winning the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Australia. AP Photo by Rick Rycroft

Xu helped the Chinese squad to its first second-place finish since 1994, grabbing a spot on the “All-Star Five” at the tournament after averaging 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per contest.

The WNBA’s tallest player at 6-foot-10, Xu shot 52 percent from the field before falling to her Liberty teammates, 81-63, in Saturday’s final.

Liberty sharp-shooter Sami Whitcomb represented Australia and won a bronze medal, netting a team-best 11.0 points per game to go with 3.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

“That’s one of my favorite parts about the New York team, we are so international and we’ve got such great talent from all over the world,” Whitcomb said of the Liberty being the most-represented WNBA squad at the event.

“I think that represents our fan base as well. It’s really amazing to come here and still get to see your teammates,” she added.

New York and Team Australia teammate Rebecca Allen played only two games in the elimination round after injuring a rib during the group stage. She finished with four rebounds for the Aussies, who were led by Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello.

“It just goes to show we’re very international that’s for sure,” Brondello said. “To get two players on the USA team that’s always hard to break into but I’m proud of those two. They’ve worked so hard to get there and you know the Aussies go without saying but Han is doing a great job as well.”

Ionescu earned her fourth gold medal in international competition and Laney won her third, but it was the first time for both as representatives of the women’s national team.

The Liberty, who were eliminated in three tough game by Chicago in the opening round of the WNBA playoffs this past summer, will have to wait until the 2023 campaign to take another shot at the organization’s first-ever championship.

Liberty center Han Xu was voted one of the top five players at the World Cup and helped China to a silver-medal finish on Saturday. AP Photo by Mark Baker


GIVE ME LIBERTY: Liberty player DiDi Richards will be at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2 on Sunday, participating in the Nets’ annual Practice in the Park. Richards will coach one of the sides in a five-on-five game called the Brooklyn Park Classic featuring notable celebrities and influencers. The free event begins at noon and will help celebrate the Nets’ 10th year in our borough.

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