Liberty Practice Beat August 10-13 (Olympic Break)

By Ros Gold-Onwude

With the Olympic break winding down, the Liberty are revving up practice and making their final preparations for their August 16th game against the Connecticut Sun at 7pm at the Prudential Center. BUY TICKETS HERE.

"Our number one goal for practice this Friday and Monday is conditioning. These are the most important practices of the season. They are designed to get us over the hump of having three weeks off", Liberty assistant coach Norm Ellenberger explained.

Leading up to practice on Friday August 10th and Monday August 13th, the Liberty focused on breaking down pieces of their offense and defense. Breakdowns occurred in groups of three-on-three or four-on-four. On Friday the team began their transition to full court games. "If you don't watch out you can drill yourself to death", said coach Ellenberger. "You have to see if the parts you worked on still work when you put them all together". Coach Ellenberger also shared his concerns about conditioning. After finishing the season handicapped by an injury riddled, post-player depleted roster, the Liberty are finally practicing with a full squad. Plenette Pierson (calf/knee), Kia Vaughn (concussion), and DeMya Walker (knee) missed playing time due to injuries and their level of conditioning coming back into the August 16th Connecticut game is a point of focus. Ellenberger sees a remedy in scrimmaging, "the only way to stay in shape is to play games. And that's our plan these practices", he said.

Nine to ten men of varying sizes, strength, and skills entered the practice facility around 11:00 am. They are the practice team, White Plains locals, most with experience playing college ball and/or currently play in basketball leagues. They are athletic, strong, and big. Usually they come in for a quick game of pickup at the end of practice. For these practices they began their workout right away, jumping straight into full court games.

"We bring the guys in for extra competition. It's a league wide practice," said assistant coach Monique Ambers. "They bring diverse looks for our players to contend with. Some of these guys are huge and strong; others are quick and streak to the basket. When they come in our players get pumped up and it's competitive".

There's nothing like the rush of competition. Doing a defensive "zig-zag" drill doesn't quite get the blood rushing the way uniting with your team to beat an opponent does. "It's always good competition when the guys come. You can just see the energy level increase in practice" said Liberty guard/forward Nicole Powell.

The practice players share the same appreciation and respect for the Liberty players. They dedicate both their body and mind to Liberty practice. Before games they often come in pre-practice to have a tutorial session on the opponent's offense with Coach Ambers. Then in practice they run a scout team for the Liberty to prepare against. After speaking with a couple of the regulars, Kirk Williams, Rishaun Johnson, and Spencer Smith, it becomes clear that this is a group of men invested in the success of the New York Liberty. "When they win, we win. When they lose, we lose," said Williams.

The Liberty are fine-tuning the offense and defense they used in the first half of the season. "Executing is key. It's a matter of being in the right place and understanding why," Coach Ambers explained.

"It's nothing exciting. We aren't reinventing the wheel", joked Coach Ellenberger in reference to second half adjustments. "We've got good stuff, we just have to run it right".

Essence Carson is taking reps at the point guard position during the Olympic break. Coach Whisenant wants to avoid wearing Cappie Pondexter out by playing her at the "one" too much. Having another option to bring the ball up could take some pressure off of the Liberty's star shooting guard. "Leilani is our point guard, but when we're resting her, we'd prefer a situation where either Cappie or Essence can bring the ball up", said Ambers.

Plenette Pierson is practicing 100% full speed after injuries to her calf and knee kept her out for much of the first half of the season. Pierson, one of the Liberty's most aggressive and potent posts, has practiced well, stayed vocal, and is performing in a strong and confident manner.

In addition to working with the scout team, Coach Ambers also works with the Liberty post players. After observing Pierson during the Olympic break she said, "She's like a coach out there, she's consistent, and she's in improved shape".

DeMya Walker completed her first full day of practice on Friday. Walker battled with knee injury towards the end of the first half of the season and has rehabbed for most of the Olympic break. Her strengths are her knowledge of Coach Whisenant's defense and her ability to do the little things that help her team succeed. Her conditioning is the biggest question mark coming back into the final stretch of the season.

Sound bites from practice:

" We can't be low! It can't be low!" - Cappie Pondexter rallies the team's energy during practice.

"Next group on the court, let's go!" -Coach Whisenant shuffled different groups of five players on and off the court for timed, high intensity full court games, making for an up-tempo practice.