Carson, Vaughn Reunion Good News for Liberty

Essence Carson was over 4,000 miles away from New York during the 2009 WNBA Draft, and it’s probably safe to say she was a little more eager to come home after the Liberty selected Kia Vaughn. The former Rutgers teammates had proved they could win before and now they’re ready to do it again, this time on the professional level

“I really enjoyed playing with Kia while I was at Rutgers,” Carson said. “And it’s another great opportunity to have her here in New York, especially with her power on the inside.”

Carson was following the draft over the internet from her temporary home in Venice, Italy, where she spent part of her first WNBA offseason playing for Umana Reyer Venezia. When the eighth pick came around and Vaughn’s name was announced, Carson was more than pleased to see the Liberty add a physical frontcourt player who brings a Kevin Garnett-like intensity to the court each night.

Last season, New York was only one win away from advancing to the WNBA Finals for the fifth time in franchise history but was ultimately outmuscled by the Detroit Shock in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now, Carson is excited to add what she thinks might be the missing piece to the puzzle in a player who will relish the opportunity to play in the Big Apple.

“I was really happy,” said Carson when asked about the addition of the 6-foot-4 center. “I was really excited not only for the team but mostly for Kia because she’s from New York and she still gets to play in front of her family and friends.

“She can definitely take us to the next level, as long as we continue to work together and play hard.”

Just minutes after being drafted, Vaughn addressed the New York media in a conference call before she reached out to her former, and now current, teammate by phone. It took two days before they eventually got in touch online, but when they finally did, the conversation went from a celebratory mood to strictly business.

“She told me that she couldn’t wait (for the season) and said that I just have to work hard, so it was more business talk,” said Vaughn, who, along with Carson, helped Rutgers make its second Final Four appearance in 2007.

Carson kept the conversation “short and sweet” because she knew how many people were probably lined up to talk to Vaughn, having gone through the same experience herself a year before, when she was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Vaughn, a Bronx native, is the first New Yorker selected as the Liberty’s top pick.

“I told her just to relax because she had just gone through an entire college season and it takes a toll on your body,” Carson said, “and to get mentally prepared for the professional season.”

While Carson now shows Vaughn the ropes of the WNBA on a daily basis, the two youngsters already had an idea of what the league was like well before they ever stepped on a WNBA floor. Carson and Vaughn are just two of several former Scarlet Knights in the league, including Phoenix’s Cappie Pondexter, Sacramento’s Chelsea Newton and Indiana’s Tammy Sutton-Brown.

“They all gave us words of encouragement and told us what to expect in training camp and to just go in there and work hard,” said Carson, who averaged 6.6 points and 2.2 rebounds during her rookie campaign.

Vaughn looks to follow in Carson’s footsteps and has already turned some heads just two weeks into training camp. After missing the Liberty’s first preseason game to attend her college graduation, Vaughn averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in two exhibition games. She will make her regular-season debut when the Liberty hosts Connecticut on Sunday.

“She’s been good,” Head Coach Pat Coyle said. “All rookies have a learning curve and she’s no different. Because of how hard she works and how physical she is, I hope that learning curve is not as big. She has a lot to learn, but she works so hard, so it’s a good thing.”