Playoff Advice from Liberty Legends

By Ros Gold-Onwude

People often say the playoffs are like a new season. Is that true? How are playoffs different?

Sue Wicks: It is very psychological. It is like a fresh start. It's like starting all over with a brand new season. Everything is amplified, the intensity is jacked up. That's why this Liberty team's experience is key; until you've actually been through that level of intensity, you have no idea. If you haven't been there before, it's like a tidal wave. There is no time to not be ready, that's why veteran teams usually do better.

Kym Hampton: The playoffs are different because it's all or nothing. In the regular season you knew or had the comfort of the thought process that if you lose the game you can just shake it off and try again. The playoffs are for keeps. The pressure is severely increased.

Teresa Weatherspoon: The playoffs are do-or-die. It is the most challenging time of the year. Rankings mean nothing. It's about rising to the occasion and bringing adrenaline, focus, and intensity.

How should the Liberty approach being the underdog vs. Connecticut and coming into the game down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals?

Sue Wicks: Don't look at it as "we're the underdog." It's not always about who has the most talent. It very much becomes about which team's preparation and intensity is better. Preparation is everything in the playoffs.

Kym Hampton: (Laughs) It always seems like there is New York drama in the playoffs- it always comes down to the wire for us, keeping our fans on their toes. There are so many WNBA champions on this team, when they decide to play, great things can happen. With their backs against the wall, they should come out harder. It's all mindset.

Teresa Weatherspoon: Don't look at the game focusing solely on what happened in the past- take confidence in your team's growth over the season. Make adjustments and be starving to win. Remember that you are here for a reason. Coming into the game down one, corrections must be made immediately. Ask ourselves- did we sustain energy? Now that we are returning home, feed of the crowd's energy. Finish strong. And then- carry that momentum back into Connecticut for game three. Ball is in the air- you have to go get it.

How did you prepare for playoffs when you were playing?

Sue Wicks: I had fantastic teammates that prepared each other. It's important to prepare yourself but you have to prep your teammates too. It takes energy and work to keep everyone's mind in the same place. T-Spoon, Kym, and others were all great leaders. But we had great followers too. It's about having great leaders and followers; followers who say, you know what, I trust you. It starts with the coach, superstars, and captains.

Kym Hampton: A lot of it's mental. I made sure I was on top of my assignment. I would visualize pregame.

Teresa Weatherspoon: Playing the role of point guard, I understood I was an extension of the coach. I focused on the mental approach to the game, the game plan, and what we practiced. And then I thought about my teammates, how can I bring them to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. I kept my total focus on that game. It comes down to who wants it the most. Who makes less mistakes. Who values each possession. Who can make clutch offensive plays. And when you go into the other team's home court, you must know that you are capable of winning.

If you were giving the pre-game speech, what would you say to this Liberty team?

Sue Wicks: I'm numbers oriented. I'd tell them statistically what we'd have to achieve to get the win. Then I talk about the energy we must bring. That would be the key.

Kym Hampton: Actually, I've texted a few of the players already. Before Game 1, I texted Cappie Pondexter, "I'm so excited, this is your time to shine, to seize the game. Just do it." I texted Nicole Powell, “Be the difference today, what better way to take the game by storm. Believe in yourself on both ends of the court." I texted Kia Vaughn, "No better time to step up than the playoffs. This is the time to show the world who you are. Go for it!" I texted Essence Carson, "The best players rise above all obstacles to claim what's theirs. Do it on both ends of the court."

Teresa Weatherspoon: They have to look each other in the eye. Ask them, Do you believe? Tell them, Take it personal. This team is in your way. Remove them. On the road you must silence their crowd. I often chat with Cappie. It's like a big sis, lil sis relationship. I talked with her before the game saying I was proud of how they battled through adversity to get here. It was a great end season run. But don't let it just be a run- you all are peaking at the right time. Go get it. The hunger must come from everybody. With Cappie as the leader, she has to bring everyone on the same page. I told her to meet the challenge. I asked her, are you hungry to do it again, like when you chased your first championship? For your teammates who have never tasted a championship- tell them what it tastes like. Make them hungry to win.

How did Liberty fans affect your career, especially during playoffs?

Sue Wicks: Liberty fans are fantastic fans. Their energy was super intense to the point where other teams were afraid to come into Madison Square Garden when we played. It was like having an extra player.

Kym Hampton: Without the fans it would be tough to do it. The things they would say, notes they would write, meant something to me. Their energy was huge. Especially when times were hard.

Teresa Weatherspoon: There are no greater fans when it comes to that kind of pressure filled atmosphere. Our fans want effort. They are behind us. They put an extra fire up under us. And we wanted to represent for New York the proper way. It was extra motivation.

Now that you've retired and been removed from the game for a while, what do you take away as significant?

Sue Wicks: As a girl I wanted to be a superstar and thought about about my stats, my numbers. But over the course of my career I learned to want for the team, to cooperate, to shine within a team setting. Ultimately it's about relationships. We trusted each other, worked together. It was such a gorgeous thing. When you looked someone in the eyes, they didn't blink. That's what I remember. Also it was about the relationship with the city. We were in love. It was rocking. Being a part of that, where the city knew the team, they knew us, that was magical.

Kym Hampton: The pride, the joy of knowing that I got, if only for a moment, a piece of something so incredible like the WNBA. I was blessed to be a pioneer and have that experience. I will remember the camaraderie with players, and enjoy the chance to be a role model.

Teresa Weatherspoon: First, I've never retired from the game. I've just transitioned. Life is transitional. As an athlete, what's significant is that when you walk away, the game continues, athletes continue to be great. So when it was your turn, what's important is your ability to utilize your platform to impact other lives. So people can know that if I can, you can too. Now that I'm coaching, I take pride and take joy in developing these kids. It's the point where you gave to the game, and now the game continues to give back to you.