New York, N.Y.-
Talk about making the most of an opportunity, Liberty
center Bethany Donaphin
is the unlikliest of heros after hitting the series-clinching buzzer beater
that eliminated the Detroit Shock in Game Three of the first round.
So just how did the Liberty's fifth offensive option on the floor find herself in a position to propel the Liberty onto the next round and become the toast of the town? The path is an unusual one.
| Donaphin's game-winner made her an instant hero in the Big Apple
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
It all begins in Harlem, several blocks north of Madison Square Garden, the Liberty and Knicks' home arena. Growing up in New York City, Donaphin was well aware of the allure and history of "The World's Most Famous Arena," but basketball was not her only interest. She started ballet when she was three years old and danced in "Cinderella" on Broadway when she was nine as well as in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta at age 15.
Donaphin graduated from the prestigious Horace Mann School in Riverdale in 1998 after leading the team to a league co-championship and becoming Horace Mann’s all-time leading scorer (boys or girls) with 2,072 career points. As a junior, she was named New York Post Private School Player of the Year. She made a big enough impact on the national scene in high school to earn a spot at Stanford playing for the legendary Tara Vanderveer.
At Stanford, Donaphin wasn't immediately given a chance. However, she went on to average 8.2 points and 4.9 boards in 86 career games and was a Pacific-10 Conference All-Academic First Team honoree. However, she went undrafted coming in 2002, then played only two minutes in one game for the Liberty in 2003 and figured to play a minimal role for the team in 2004. If she even made the team coming out of training camp...
She did make the team and saw some action starting out, but several injuries to New York's post players coupled with a midseason coaching change forced Donaphin into the starting lineup. First veteran Tari Phillips went down with a wrist injury, then Dispersal Draft pick-up Ann Wauters was lost for the season with a leg injury. She ultimately started in 16 games down the stretch and averaged 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Not overwhelming offensive numbers.
In Game One against the Shock, Donaphin was again in the starting lineup, but inserted as a defensive force for the Liberty against the bigger, stronger Shock post players. Donaphin responded and helped shut down Detroit's front line en route to a convincing victory.
| Donaphin is the Liberty's
first native New Yorker
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
But in dropping Game Two at home and falling behind early to the Shock in Game Three, things looked grim for the Liberty. Detroit got out to a double-digit lead in the first half and extended that into the second half. But despite former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier sitting in the front row at the Garden, the Shock could not deliver the knockout punch.
“There was no quit in that locker room," Coyle said. "Our players came out and played really well in the second half on both ends of the floor.”
The unlikely scenarios continued to unfold as Liberty veterans Becky Hammon, Crystal Robinson and Elena Baranova all hit big shots to erase a 15-point second half deficit and ultimately tie the score down the stretch.
Then, with the game knotted at 64 with just seconds to go, Coyle called a timeout and designed a play. Hammon, who already had 20 points, drove the baseline and found herself in trouble and in need of help from a teammate. Robinson, Baranova and Vickie Johnson were all closely guarded. Instead, with the seconds ticking towards zero, Hammon delivered a pass to Donaphin, just 10 feet from the basket, who shot the ball as she turned and found the bottom of the net.
“I was excited to hit that shot, but that is not what I was thinking coming out of the timeout," Donaphin said.
Lights out. Game over.
“I couldn’t be more happy for that kid to make that shot," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "Was that by design? No, but it went in and we finally beat them (Detroit) with a buzzer beater."
The unlikeliest of offensive heros, Donaphin may have only scored six points for New York, but none were bigger than her final two.
“It says a lot about our team," Donaphin said. "We have a lot of heart and desire. Everyone has been doubting us all season and that just makes it a lot sweeter.”