July 11, 2020
Liberty begin training camp without Megan Walker
New York expect Walker at IMG at some point, but who will need to step up?
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New York Liberty forward Megan Walker during her final season at UCONN. (Photo via Megan Walker’s Instagram.)
Training camp began for the entire WNBA on Friday with the Liberty hitting the hardwood for the first time as a group in the late afternoon. Center Amanda Zahui B. celebrated the occasion hours before with an Instagram story captioned “family walk,” with the entire team walking together in a clump with backpacks and masks.
But 15 minutes before practice began, it became clear that Asia Durr wasn’t the only face missing from the action. In a statement, the team revealed that 2020’s 9th overall draft pick Megan Walker tested positive for COVID-19 before the team embarked to IMG Academy.
The team revealed that Walker is asymptomatic but must stay self-isolated for the time being. Unlike Durr, who will miss the 2020 season due to an “arduous” recovery process from the virus, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb “fully expects” Walker to join the team and noted that she needs two negative tests in a row to ensure that she can begin her rookie season. The team didn’t specify when Walker first tested positive.
With the league announcing that the season will officially tipoff in two weeks from today, she will most likely miss a considerable amount of training camp. According to the CDC, people exposed to the coronavirus must self-quarantine for a two-week period.
Even if Walker returns toward the end of camp at the earliest, she’ll be rusty and not necessarily ready at the drop of a hat. The Liberty’s options at the three spot are more scarce than they were in March. Losing Bec Allen, Durr and now Walker temporarily leaves all eyes on 2020’s 10th overall draft pick, Jocelyn Willoughby. Her minutes will definitely increase, but where she plays is dependent on Nurse who also can willingly play the small forward and if head coach Walt Hopkins decides to play Sabrina Ionescu off the ball at the two and Layshia Clarendon at the point.
But back to Willoughby, for starters, she has Nurse’s vote of confidence. On episode five of Kickin’ it with Kia, Nurse said that she “can’t wait to run an offense” with her.
Resident veteran Clarendon has unofficially nominated Willougby as “the model rookie of the year.” Why you may ask? Let them explain.
She is super sharp and really smart. So far, she just has the most engaging questions. I’m already like she’s gonna be a featured executive committee member, like she’s definitely going to be a player rep [within the WNBPA]. That’s the kind of character and leadership she showed as a young person already. So she’s someone I think is just gonna shine and excel as a professional because she just has such a great skill set coming in, and just really thoughtful, super analytical and has a great demeanor about her. Like when she speaks you listen because she’s not the person who’s always chatting. But when she says something you’re like, ‘whoa, that was profound, like that was an amazing question.’
I’ve also compared the former Virginia Cavalier to Allen for not only her brand of versatility, but also for her benevolence and calm. (According to Clarendon, I’m not wrong!)
Also, I wouldn’t rule out Kylie Shook and Leaonna Odom as first years who might see some minutes at the four or five spots, especially if New York doesn’t try to sign a sharpshooting “young vet” or another versatile rookie soon.
But the Liberty would be foolish not to add to a roster with over $300,000 of cap room at their disposal. Don’t imagine Head Coach Walt Hopkins overhauling a system that he and his staff have fine-tuned for months. Players who fit the system to a tee will be granted more minutes.
Willoughby and Odom can play at least two positions, and who wouldn’t want potentially two bigs (Zahui B. and Shook) who can stretch the floor playing side-by-side.
While Walker waits, a vivacious vibe awaits the rookie forward. “Energy is fantastic,” Kolb told The Next. Once Walker arrives, she can look forward to “drills,” a “great assist” from number one overall pick Ionescu and even some shenanigans from the youngest squad in the league.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.