The New York Liberty entered the 2015 WNBA Draft without a pick in the first round. By night’s end, head coach Bill Laimbeer’s team had acquired two first-round picks and stocked up on young talent to fit his system as he looks to guide the Liberty to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
New York traded Alex Montgomery to the San Antonio Stars in exchange for the No. 9 pick in the draft, which it used to select California guard Brittany Boyd. Just two picks later, the Liberty made a trade with the Minnesota Lynx and acquired the No. 11 pick in a deal that saw the teams swap picks and New York send guard Anna Cruz to the Lynx. With that pick, Laimbeer’s team took Connecticut center Kiah Stokes.
The Liberty also added Stanford’s Amber Orrange in the second round.
“We added three players that come from three really fun programs in Cal, UCONN and Stanford,” Laimbeer said on a post-draft conference call. “We’re confident that they know the game of basketball really well. When a player has played for the caliber of coaches that these players have played for, you can have confidence that they’re going to come in understanding the game.”
Stokes and Boyd were both ecstatic on draft night about the opportunity to play their home games in New York at Madison Square Garden, a place they both had the opportunity to play at while in college.
“When I heard my name, it was kind of unreal at the moment,” said Stokes. “To go a great place like New York it makes it even more special.”
“I’m going to New York, you know. That’s something that I wanted,” Boyd said just moments after being drafted. “I’m just happy to be here. New York is a wonderful place – the Big City – and I’m excited for my future.”
Boyd, a 5-foot-9 guard, noted before the draft that she modeled her game after former Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter, who was traded to the Chicago Sky during the offseason in exchange for Epiphanny Prince. She’s seen her fair share of Liberty games over the years and now joins a talented backcourt with Prince, Essence Carson and Tanisha Wright.
Stokes, a 6-3 center who made a name for herself defensively on Connecticut’s championship teams, is coming to New York with her sights set on getting better offensively. Laimbeer believes she has room to develop in that area and hopes to bring that out of her.
“Kiah wants to get better offensively,” Laimbeer said. “She’s a fine role player but we’re going to demand more of her. Geno [Auriemma] said there’s room for a tremendous amount of improvement and we believe the same.”
That expectation isn’t lost on Stokes, who played with plenty of capable scorers in Connecticut and wasn’t looked upon to score often. She averaged 4.5 points and 6.5 rebound per game during her senior season. Now, she understands the Liberty want her to expand her offensive capabilities.
“Obviously, I’m a defensive threat,” Stokes said. “I want to make sure I bring that every day. And just keep working on my offensive game and do that when I need to. I’m excited and looking forward to it, but I have a lot of work to do still.”
The Liberty’s draft leaves one to wonder what to expect in 2015. Combine the team’s offseason moves with the acquisitions made on draft day and it’s evident the Liberty are serious about moving in the right direction. Laimbeer has yet to guide the team to the playoffs after taking the Detroit Shock to the postseason six times from 2003 to 2008.
“We assembled a great veteran group that will play a huge role in getting these young players better,” Laimbeer said. “I’m not one to play favorites, if you can hoop you play!”
The Liberty feel as if the moves made have put them in on the right path as a franchise. Whatever the case may be, Boyd is ready to come in and show the team she’s watched for years that she can play with the likes of Prince, Carson and Cash.
“Whatever Bill [Laimbeer] needs me to do, he and his coaching staff need me to do, that’s what I’m willing to do,” said Boyd. “The things that I’m going to bring are the things that I can control: my energy, what I do on my off time: getting better, extra shooting, extra conditioning, learning and dissecting the game, picking people’s brains.”