April 27, 2021 

New faces, more questions in Liberty training camp

New York has 19 players on roster and plenty of complications

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New York Liberty forward Rebecca Allen (9) warms up before 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.

On Friday, the Liberty announced their 2021 training camp roster, which includes 19 total players, 13 who have officially reported to camp and around 6 who will be absent for the conditioning period before the WNBA regular season gets underway on May 14.

While New York can only have 15 players present in camp on the court at once, this large collection of assets should not come as not a surprise. GM Jonathan Kolb noted before the 2021 draft that having extra players is not just beneficial, but necessary with overseas leagues finishing up their seasons. Also, head coach Walt Hopkins made it abundantly clear how competitive he wanted his first Liberty training camp to be. For a basketball operations department and coaching staff that values work ethic, training camp is the opportune place to discover it and provide a check on those pre-draft interviews.

There are still a few questions that the team hasn’t yet answered. While late camp arrivals and the desire for a competitive camp don’t come as a surprise, what did open eyes, however, was the name that was missing. Marine Johannès, the French guard who has a knack for putting on a show, wasn’t included on New York’s training camp roster. During her first WNBA season in 2019, however, Johannès was listed on the training camp roster and the proper indication was made that she’d be arriving late to New York.

Remember, 2019 was a time before COVID. But also, to make matters a bit more complex, Johannès is listed on the roster found on the Liberty’s official website.

So what gives?

A source close to the situation told The Next that her circumstances are “complicated.” Johannès not only has the rest of her season with LDLC ASVEL Féminin to finish but then will head right into preparation for the Eurobasket Championships and then the Olympics with the French National team.

So why can’t she join after the Olympic break? It’s not a matter of yes or no at this point, but rather an if-then. It may depend on how the roster shakes out post-training camp. What will the salary cap look like by then and will the Liberty even have room for Johannès?

Now that New York has made it official that they’ve signed Rebecca Allen to a one-year deal on a protected contract (*sighs with relief*), what does the salary cap look like? According to a report from Her Hoop Stats, Allen will make $105,037 in 2021, which is well-deserved for the MVP of the Spanish League’s 2021 semifinal.

Excluding training camp contracts but including rookie contracts, the Liberty’s camp is $57,016 over the $1,339,000 salary cap. But that number encompasses 14 total players, which won’t be the case once the calendar flips to mid-May. Between now and opening day, players will be waived and the room will be made.

Now, what does this have to do with Johannès? Loads, actually. How do the Liberty make room for her with limited cap space? It’s currently too soon to know.

But what if someone currently on the roster is injured by the time the Olympic break comes to a close? For a team with potential need at the two-guard, that’s another consideration for New York that prevents them from suspending her contract. And that’s why she remains on the Liberty’s web-based roster.

That’s as ambiguous as it gets, but what is certain, however, is the fate of 20-year-old Marine Fauthoux. According to a source familiar with her situation, she won’t be coming over this year and New York has suspended her contract, holding her rights. Fauthoux has the same set of commitments as Johannès, but the Liberty can risk having a 20-year-old point guard continue to develop overseas.

The Baileys address roster holes

New names Jasmine Bailey and Janelle Bailey both serve a clear purpose as this roster has holes even including the folks who are currently still overseas. The Liberty need consistent shot-making in the backcourt and more size and strength on the block. They are a bit scarce at the two position and at the five. With Johannès, Allen, Asia Durr, Sami Whitcomb, Betnijah Laney, Natasha Howard, and Kiah Stokes currently not at camp, that’s exactly what they get with both Baileys suiting up.

Jasmine Bailey, who was signed to a training camp deal on April 21, is a 5’9 shooting guard who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. During her senior season in college, she was named to the All-Horizon League First Team and the All-Defensive Team.

She left UIC as the only player in team history to score over 1,5000 points, haul down over 1,000 rebounds, dish over 300 assists, and record over 200 steals. The 31-year-old guard has played the past three seasons abroad in the French Division 1 league. In two seasons for RocheVendée B.C., she averaged 13.7 points, 3.5 assists, and 5.4 rebounds per game. This season on a new team, Saint-Amand, Bailey averaged 11.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Bailey is a fit at camp because of her ability as a smaller guard to rebound. With a backcourt that will revolve around another rebounding guard in Sabrina Ionescu, it’s vital for other guards in camp to be able to do the same. Also, Bailey’s shot has a bit of the French flair that you see in both Johannès and Fauthoux’s stroke. What remains a deficiency for Bailey, however, is her consistency from deep. In three years playing in France, she shot a bit over 22 percent from three-point range.

But, as Kolb stated before the draft, the Liberty look for players who have at least one “elite-level skill” and have a compatible, selfless personality.

The other Bailey, who was signed to a training camp deal on April 24, is a center/forward from the University of North Carolina who wasn’t selected in the 2021 draft. As a more traditional post who has the potential to be a three-level scorer, here’s how she not only fits New York but addresses their needs.

On the intrapersonal level, Bailey is exactly who the Liberty tend to look for. She’s incredibly confident, but also incredibly giving to her teammates. Similar to what the Liberty gushed about with 2021 first-round pick Michaela Onyenwere, the same type of disposition is in full swing with Janelle Bailey.

According to a profile of Bailey in The Daily Tar Heel, she is someone known to have the tools to be vocal and vulnerable. She puts herself out there for her teammates.

After her former teammate and then-freshman-year roommate Jaelynn Murray had to redshirt due to a season-ending injury during Bailey’s junior year, the center decided to wear the number of her friend rather than her own. Her reason: “I had to find a way just to make sure she was still with me,” Bailey told The Daily Tar Heel.“I just wanted to do something for her so that she knows we all care, I care.”  

Janelle Bailey sounds like a New York Liberty player, (not to mention a former ACC player along with other training camp addition Asia Taylor), but what about her on-court skills?

Bailey’s elite pro-level skill is her ability to establish position on the low block on both offense and defense. She has enough post moves in her arsenal that she can turn over either shoulder. She finished as a top 10 finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award in three of her four seasons at UNC.

During her senior season, her field goal percentage was eighth-best in the country. She shot over 48 percent from the field. While that’s no small feat even for a traditional post player, in the 2020-2021 season, Bailey proved that she had become more versatile. LaChina Robinson noticed.

This season she proved that she’s capable of a jump shot from the high post, free-throw line, and from beyond the arc. While her shot from long wasn’t at a remarkably high clip, she’s also a willing passer who’s comfortable executing a high-low. Bailey can battle it out with post players who tower over her 6’3 frame. Her skillful footwork on defense sets her apart and gave her an upper hand against larger posts. Look no further than how she could score on and defend ACC Rookie of the Year Kamilla Cardoso. With Kiah Stokes still waiting to compete for a Turkish championship (more on that shortly), Bailey has shoes she can fill in camp.

While the former Tar Heel’s guard skills are still in development, that’s absolutely no fear for the Liberty’s coaching staff, who just added former Mystics guard Jacki Gemelos. Gemelos knows a thing or two about growth and adversity, making her a fit for New York.

“We couldn’t be more excited for Jacki to join us in Brooklyn for our inaugural season at Barclays Center,” Hopkins said in a team press release. “In addition to being a wonderful person with extensive playing experience and a high basketball IQ, Jacki’s perseverance in the face of countless setbacks throughout her career makes her a perfect model of the growth-minded, relentless, mentally tough ideals upon which our Liberty culture is being built. We’re lucky to have her with us.”

When will the absent players report?

When DiDi Richards was asked about her own development when she was introduced to the New York media on April 20, she announced how confident she was in this coaching staff. But she also mentioned how much she leans on veteran players.

“I’m just gonna literally watch the angles they take,” Richards said. “What routes they take to cut people off because every level is different. [In] high school I was able to let people beat me and block their shots. I came to college and I saw that that wasn’t gonna work, so I dissected Kristy Wallace, who was a point guard and a great defender at Baylor, and I learned from her and now I’m hoping to learn from, you know, them here and I’m just excited to get to, you know, watch them play.”

But Richards won’t have much time before the season to do that. The Liberty have players currently finishing their international seasons not only in France, but also in Spain, Italy, Israel, and Turkey.

  • Spain: Bec Allen and her club Valencia Basket will face Perfumerias Avenida in the Spanish league final on Thursday for the beginning of a best-of-three series.

    Estimated time of arrival: in one week to a week and a half.

  • Italy: Natasha Howard is currently competing in the Italian semi-finals. Her team Umana Reyer Venezia defeated Segafredo Bologna 92-62 in the first game of a best of three series on Monday. If Howard’s team doesn’t move on, she may be on a plane within the week. But if Umana Reyer Venezia continues onto the league final, which is a best-of-five, the Liberty might not see Howard until the week of opening day.

    Estimated time of arrival: in one to two weeks.

  • Israel: Betnijah Laney’s overseas season ended on Sunday as her club Elitzur Ramla lost to Ramat Gan in the Israeli league playoffs.

    Estimated time of arrival: within the week.

  • Turkey: Kiah Stokes is held up. While the other Turkish semifinal continues on, and won’t finish until the end of April, Stokes and her teammates are staying put. Once the other semi-final finishes, Fenerbahce will face the winner in the Turkish league final in a best-of-five series.

    Estimated time of arrival: in at least two weeks

But these estimations don’t include the amount of time it will take for these players to get through the required COVID protocols. Speaking of those protocols, the Liberty announced that Sami Whitcomb would be late to camp as well, but it wasn’t because she was overseas. She, her wife Kate, and their son Nash are now in Brooklyn.

On Monday, Hopkins was asked about when Whitcomb should be expected to join the team. He noted that the reason for the delay was due to the team getting Whitcomb “through all of the necessary cardiac testing” that is required. Both she and Jasmine Bailey are delayed due to passing through the COVID protocols. But Hopkins expects both to be ready to go within the next couple of days.

Sami Whitcomb and family have finally arrived in Brooklyn. (Screenshot from Kate Malpass’s Instagram page via Jackie Powell.)

Also, Asia Durr is currently listed on the roster, but it’s highly unlikely that she’ll suit up this season. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, months after she appeared on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, Durr mentioned to Post reporter Michael Lee that she still has not picked up a basketball yet.

Hopkins was also asked about Durr’s progress on Monday, and his response was less than optimistic. “I think at this point a possibility, but I think it’s a very low probability,” he said about the Liberty getting to see Durr this season. “She’s just had an extraordinary amount of things that she’s had to fight through. And so we’re doing everything we can to support her.”

It is currently unclear as to how Durr’s situation is being looked at by the league at large. While it looks as though Durr will continue to earn her salary, how will that number affect New York’s final salary crunch?

What do the Liberty value when they have to cut down the roster? This is a staff that a year ago didn’t have to say goodbye to anyone, but rather kept on adding young pieces. The next two weeks will be critical. Do any of these young players bump a veteran still playing overseas? What matters most to the Liberty, talent level, work ethic, or seniority? We’ll find out soon.

Written by Jackie Powell

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