Brooklyn Boro

Liberty begin ramping up for title run

Laney says, 'We're tough, we're hard-working' as camp opens

May 2, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Limited to only 12 games last season due to a knee injury, New York Liberty forward Betnijah Laney can’t wait for the 2023 campaign as Downtown Brooklyn’s WNBA franchise again begins pursuit of its first-ever WNBA championship.

Especially with the additions of 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart and future Hall of Fame point guard Courtney Vandersloot, the circuit’s all-time leader in assists, this past offseason.

“Everybody that we’ve added has fit right into our culture with the New York Liberty,” Laney said after practice Monday. “We’re tough. We’re hard-working.”

They also are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, including last year’s tough three-game, first-round ouster at the hands of the Chicago Sky.

Laney, who suffered a right-meniscus injury last May that required surgery, sat out until early August, when she helped the Liberty make a late push into the postseason.

She averaged 11.3 points per contest in the playoffs, but couldn’t quite replicate the 16.8 average she posted in 2021, when she made her first All-Star appearance for New York.

Laney already sees the difference in a Liberty roster that has added a plethora of star power to go with mainstays like herself and 2022 All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu.

“I think all around we’re a bit bigger,” she noted. “Camp this year has been a lot more physical. We have a lot more experience with veteran players.”

Though the trio of new additions has headlined New York’s impressive offseason haul, prompting head coach Sandy Brondello to call it “Christmas in February”, former Dallas forward Kayla Thornton is another new face on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot arrived in Brooklyn back in February, hoping to help the Liberty win their first-ever WNBA title. AP Photo by Jessie Alcheh

A seven-year veteran who hopes to grab a title here in Brooklyn, Thornton spoke Monday about her brief time practicing and getting to know her new teammates.

“This is probably one of the best training camps that I’ve had so far,” she said. “Just the vibe, the air, the atmosphere felt right. … I played in Dallas six years and lived there. It’s time for a new move. I’m just blessed for the opportunity.”

Thornton put up 8.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year for the Wings, coming to New York in the swap that brought Jones here in January.

“I’m a very vocal person,” she said when asked of the impact she might have on her new team. “Just trying to be the best two-way player I can be. Just be where they need me to be. … Now, we have a team where we have more vets.”

New York also has its full roster in camp in anticipation of the first 40-game season in WNBA history.

In previous years, the Liberty and other teams across the league had to wait for some of their players to return from their international squads or European franchises before getting into the WNBA campaign.

That wasn’t the case this season as head coach Sandy Brondello’s entire squad is ready to begin preparing for what could be an historic season at Barclays Center.

“I look forward to training camp. I look back to my first year in New York last year and we had so many injuries,” she said.

“Some days, I had five players. I had to use the first month of the season to have training camp, develop that chemistry, and learn a new system,” Brondello added. “It wasn’t just the new players. It was a new coach and how we wanted to play.”

Jones, Stewart and Vandersloot will join Ionescu and Laney to form a Fab Five in Brooklyn this year.

But players like Thornton, 6-foot-10 center Han Xu and sharp-shooters Marine Johannes and DiDi Richards will be counted on to fill prominent roles, both off the bench and in the starting lineup.

“The ultimate goal is to create a dynasty,” Vandersloot said upon her arrival here three months ago. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Nor will it happen without the hard work this team has to put in during training camp ahead of the May 19 opener in Washington, D.C.

“When you’re playing basketball in New York, you’re are automatically in the spotlight,” Stewart said at her introductory press conference.

“Everyone’s being watched, people are paying attention to the Liberty here, [but] it’s more about what we’re doing internally than what’s happening externally.”

Liberty All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu will have plenty of options to dish to this season as New York had an impressive offseason haul of new players. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty’s home opener at Barclays Center is May 21 vs. Indiana. New York will host Jones’ former teammates from Connecticut here on May 27. … BAM Rose Cinemas will have a theatrical release of “UNFINISHED BUSINESS”, a new definitive documentary about the formation of the WNBA, culminating in the Liberty’s dramatic 2021 season. The film will be at BAM from May 12-18 after premiering last year at the Tribeca Film Festival. It will also stream on Amazon Prime Video beginning May 13 and have a special broadcast on ESPN2 on May 14 at 9 p.m.

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