July 24, 2020 

Megan Walker enters the ‘Wubble’, expected to join Liberty on Monday

New York roster at 11; Asia Durr receives medical exemption

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2020’s 9th overall draft pick Megan Walker poses in her New York Liberty threads. Photo via New York Liberty’s Instagram story highlights.

Megan Walker wanted her presence in Bradenton, Florida to be known on Thursday afternoon. A simple two-word message to the Twitterverse signaled her arrival to IMG academy. “#wubble vibess,” she wrote.

Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb addressed the media later that afternoon announcing that Walker had arrived in Bradenton Thursday morning. The former UConn sharpshooter is now in the WNBA’s “quarantine protocol” which mandates that Walker self-isolates for four days. If Walker continues testing negative, Kolb expects her to join the team for practice this coming Monday following their season opener against the Seattle Storm on Saturday.

Head coach Walt Hopkins spoke to Walker on Wednesday evening and noted that he would follow up with her once she’s settled on Thursday evening and once Hopkins got some tea for his voice, which from training camp has become hoarse.

How long will it take for Walker to get adjusted to Wubble life and how long will it take for her to get into some game action? According to Hopkins, the transition won’t be that difficult. Not only has Walker been included via Zoom for team meetings, but the coaching staff has been keeping up with her, making sure she has all the resources she needs to be able to learn the offensive and defensive schemes from the comfort of her self-quarantining.

She had access to the team database where she could ask questions and watch select practices and scrimmages. The Liberty employed the same strategies with the latest New York addition Joyner Holmes, who told reporters that Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson was integral in providing a crash course to the “New Era” system.

Hopkins plans on engaging with Walker as often as he can from a safe social distance as she continues to carry out the league’s quarantine protocol for the next few days. When he spoke to her on Wednesday night, she didn’t sound overwhelmed or “out of sorts with anything” that she’s learned remotely.

“She sounded like she was right there with us,” he told The Next. “She’s watched practices on the ones that we have recorded. We get them to her. She’s gotten to watch the scrimmages. She seems to have a really good handle on what we’re trying to do.”

Hopkins believes that Walker is currently as prepared as she could be amid the unprecedented circumstances that welcomed her to the W. For Walker, the process leading up to her pro debut will just be contingent upon “getting the reps and getting comfortable” with her new teammates and the coaching staff.

But according to Holmes, acclimating to the Liberty’s personnel shouldn’t be difficult. “I really jelled with the team a lot very quickly and I’m just happy to be here,” she said during media availability on Wednesday.

New York Liberty guard Asia Durr (25) passes the ball to New York Liberty forward Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (4) during the WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and the New York Liberty at Times Union Center, Albany, New York, USA on May 19, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

A versatile group allows for an 11 person roster to function, for now

With Asia Durr officially “medically exempt” from the 2020 season and therefore receiving her entire salary, there are still currently 12 names listed on the online roster. The Liberty will play with 10 active players to the Storm’s full 12 this Saturday.

After assessing the 10 players (excluding Walker) for the past two weeks, Hopkins couldn’t exactly say what this team is missing and needs desperately from a potential mystery 12th piece. While he’s addressed his options, bringing in a more veteran presence versus another rookie from the draft board, a lot of the criteria that built the roster comes into play when signing a final player. (I’ve previously provided my two cents.)

Hopkins noted that the versatility of the Liberty’s player personnel is “built to withstand some losses.”

“That’s one of the beautiful things about the way that we want to do things and it has its drawbacks too, but I would say that one of the strengths of it for sure in a season like this is that we do have players who can fill in at multiple spots and guard multiple spots and do different things on the court,” he said. “And so it gives us I think probably a little bit more flexibility than rigidity.” 

But in a season that squeezes 22 games into less than two months, a young roster that isn’t as seasoned to handle the professional pace will encounter some lethargy. In week two, Hopkins has expressed that he’s seen some physical fatigue, but he noticed that if anything the effort was more intense and the group played “more connected” during the second week.

The Liberty’s coaching staff has encouraged the roster to communicate more, which Hopkins has defined as “a controllable,” or something that “you don’t take a day off from.”

“We pushed in the idea of communication,” he said. “And the idea of it being something that you don’t take a day off from that you know that’s a controllable, communication network controls. And the way that this group has responded has been unbelievable. So I would say that fatigue is a factor but not an issue. For this group, they’ve really done a good job mitigating it.” 

Written by Jackie Powell

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