Off-Season Moves Generate Buzz As Training Camp Opens
New York added All-Stars Cappie Pondexter, Nicole Powell and Taj McWilliams-Franklin and received a major boost in the WNBA Draft when Kalana Greene fell into the second round. Add those newcomers to last season's returners and the road to the WNBA Finals has officially begun for the Liberty, which will tip off the regular season at home against the Chicago Sky on May 16.
"With Cappie and the addition of Nicole Powell, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and the rest of our core group on this club, we will believe we have positioned ourselves to get back on top of the Eastern Conference and challenge for the WNBA championship this season," team President and General Manager Carol Blazejowski said.
Let's review the off-season ...
It got off to a great start when Powell was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA's Dispersal Draft of Sacramento Monarchs players on Dec. 14. Teams drafted in order of their regular season finish in 2009, and the Liberty ended last summer with a 13-21 record.
Nearly four months after picking up the Monarch's top scorer, the Liberty made one of the biggest deals in franchise history when it acquired Pondexter along with Kelly Mazzante from the Phoenix Mercury on March 30. Pondexter averaged 19.1 points per game in last season's playoffs to lead the Mercury to its second WNBA championship in three years.
Pondexter will join her 2008 U.S. Olympic team head coach Anne Donovan and play alongside former Rutgers University teammates Kia Vaughn and Essence Carson, two of the seven players returning from last year. The veteran All-Star guard says that New York is her favorite city outside of her hometown of Chicago and that she wants nothing more than to bring a championship to New York.
"I was interested after the end of our championship run in Phoenix to start a new career in New York," Pondexter said after the three-team blockbuster trade. "I'm more than excited and I'm ready to take this adventure on and bring a winning mentality to the Liberty."
The Liberty"s impressive off-season continued with the selections of Greene, Ashley Houts and Cory Montgomery in the 2010 WNBA Draft. New York, which did not have a first-round selection, was thrilled for the opportunity to get Greene with the No. 13 overall pick. Greene is coming off an impressive season in which she helped lead the University of Connecticut to its second straight national championship.
"We are very pleased," Blazejowski said following the draft. "We feel fortunate that Kalana Greene fell to us at No. 13. She's got a championship mentality, she's a hard worker and she's a great defender."
And it wasn't over there. Just to make things even more interesting, the Liberty signed McWilliams-Franklin just days before Training Camp begins at the team's training facility. McWilliams-Franklin, who played for the Shock over the past two seasons, helped bring a championship to Detroit in 2008.
"Taj will provide a physical inside presence, bring veteran leadership that will help make our frontcourt one of the best in the league, and further position the Liberty to compete for the WNBA Championship this season."
Adding players with championship mentalities seemed to be Blazejowski's goal entering the season, and she accomplished the feat. Not only did she add some WNBA champions and an NCAA champ to the roster but she also locked down gold-medal winning coach Donovan for the season. Donovan was the Liberty's interim head coach last season after Pat Coyle was relieved of her coaching duties.
"There's no question that Anne is one of the most respected coaches in our game," Blazejowski said. "Her experience and leadership skills as both a player and a coach will be invaluable as we battle to get the franchise back to its proper place at the top of the WNBA."
The other returnees from last season's squad include Tiffany Jackson, Janel McCarville, Leilani Mitchell, Sidney Spencer, Erlana Larkins, Vaughn and Carson. The Liberty's two-game preseason begins on May 5 at Washington and ends on May 11 against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.
Score tickets to Opening Day on May 16 at The Garden by clicking here. The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive a Liberty hat courtesy of Delta Airlines.