April 17, 2024 

In a busy WNBA Draft, Liberty select Mississippi’s Marquesha Davis, stash Kaitlyn Davis

New York drafted with athleticism in mind for the long term

BROOKLYN — When the New York Liberty were on the clock for the first time on Monday night, droves of Liberty fans made sure their voices were heard inside the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) at the first fan-attended WNBA Draft in eight years. While the league’s hometown team wasn’t what all the buzz was about in this year’s draft, the franchise still had a considerable presence during the first WNBA tentpole event of the 2024 season.

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With effervescent team mascot Ellie the Elephant helping to conduct the chants, Liberty fans began shouting “Let’s Go Liberty” in unison while New York’s first-round pick, 11th overall, was about to be announced. But then, during the cacophony of “Let’s Go Liberty” chants, some fans defected to a counter-melody, a tune that was met well by Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, two current UConn players sitting in the audience. 

“WE WANT NIKA! WE WANT NIKA!” fans shouted. In the week leading up to the draft and following the NCAA Final Four, Liberty fans had latched onto the idea of their team drafting Nika Mühl, the gritty and defensive-minded point guard from UConn who held Caitlin Clark to 27.3% shooting from three in the national semifinal. 

When the Liberty’s official selection was about to be announced, Bueckers and Fudd were standing up and ready to capture the moment if their teammate and friend Mühl was selected. But when WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the Liberty’s selection, Mississippi’s Marquesha Davis rather than Mühl, the two UConn guards sat down. 

But, did Liberty fans? No, they did not. While some of them may have been shocked by a name they didn’t recognize as much, they still showed their support. When ESPN’s Holly Rowe chatted with Davis on the television broadcast following her selection, Rowe reminded Davis of the unique moment she was in. There were hometown fans of her new team standing right behind her.

“Let’s turn around and say hello. New York Liberty, this is her,” Rowe said. 

When Davis turned around, she was met by droves of fans shouting and standing right behind her. She waved and said “hi,” slightly overwhelmed by the moment. Her dream had just come true. A young person who grew up in McGehee, Arkansas, was now about to start her professional basketball career in the big city.

The raucous Liberty fan base in attendance didn’t expect Davis to be picked, and she wasn’t even projected to the Liberty in most WNBA mock drafts, just one. And that was exactly how the Liberty wanted it. Although, The Next can report that New York was trying to move up a spot to try to land one of the three bigs that fans were a little bit more familiar with. A league source told The Next that the Sunday trade between the Sky and the Lynx lit a fire underneath multiple teams, including the Liberty. New York was interested in Angel Reese, Rickea Jackson and Aaliyah Edwards. What other teams were asking, a package that included Leonie Fiebich, wasn’t a price the Liberty were willing to pay.

Very early on in the Liberty’s pre-draft scouting process, they saw a lot to like in Davis. First and foremost, New York was drawn to her natural athleticism, physical tools, and ability to get out quickly in transition and get into the paint. Her speed is something the Liberty don’t have a ton of on their current roster. Many WNBA talent evaluators have compared her brand of athleticism to that of Phoenix Mercury guard Kahleah Copper. New York also admired her length and vertical, which are both above average. A league source told The Next that Davis has a wingspan of around 6.25′ to accompany her 6′ height and a 34.5″ vertical jump. 

The Liberty also value Davis’s ability to pressure the rim and create her own shot. And while her 3-point shooting isn’t where it should be for a WNBA wing, the Liberty’s player development staff aims to work with Davis on developing the confidence to take and eventually make more shots from beyond the arc. What encourages the Liberty about her shooting, however, is her willingness to shoot the basketball in the midrange.

The defensive end is also something Davis takes a lot of pride in, and the Liberty love their two-way wings (i.e., Betnijah Laney-Hamilton). While defensive ability remains difficult to quantify, Davis averaged 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per game this past NCAA season, which ranked in the 89th and 86th percentiles nationally. While she was at Arkansas before transferring to Mississippi, she told her high school coach Heather Hunsucker that she was “falling in love with [playing] defense.” Her will and want-to are there. 

“She’s a dog,” New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb told The Next. “She is the ultimate competitor. She’s a hooper. She wants to win.” 

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Following her selection, Davis told reporters that she wants to learn during her rookie season on a roster loaded with veterans. But also, she appreciated that the Liberty just want Davis to be who she is and admire how she plays the game. 

“I would say what excites me the most is coming into this Liberty team and learning from the vets that are there, and just going in and continuing to grow,” New York’s rookie told reporters on Monday night. “Something that stood out to me is them looking basically for a two-way player and me being just that. So knowing that I can come in and be a two-way player and make an impact that way is something that I look forward to.”

Davis’ situation in the WNBA this season will allow her to focus on being a sponge rather than the pressure of “having to save the day.” That’s what Mississippi head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin thought would be Davis’ ideal situation. 

The Liberty view Davis and her addition to the roster as more of a long-term payoff that could have some benefits in the short term. How much does she contribute to a team that looks to return to the WNBA Finals for a second straight year? That remains to be seen. It will be up to head coach Sandy Brondello and her staff to construct a role for Davis in Year 1 that allows her to get her feet wet and grow accustomed to the WNBA, while also playing the long game on a player with loads of WNBA potential.

What to expect out of Kaitlyn Davis and the rest of the Liberty’s 2024 draftees

In both 2023 and 2024, the Liberty have employed a creative tactic to address the fact that WNBA rosters remain very small: 12 at most, with veteran-laden teams mostly carrying 11. A year ago, New York selected USC’s Okako Adika, another wing that has 3–and–D type skills, in the third round at 30th overall. Instead of having Adika come to training camp last season, they decided to stash her rights and invite her to training camp the following year in 2024. 

Now the Liberty look to do the same in 2025 with another USC player and a former Ivy Leaguer in Kaitlyn Davis. This Davis is a 6’2 forward with guard-like skills who can function as a point forward and has a lot of bounce in her game. USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb told our Jenn Hatfield last summer that Davis stood out on her roster as “kind of craziest athlete on the floor.” 

Yet again, another pick focused on athleticism. 

“By securing Kaitlyn’s draft rights, she will have the opportunity to continue to develop and compete for a spot on the Liberty as soon as the 2025 season,” Kolb said in a team release about New York’s 35th overall pick.  “Her athleticism in the front court, dynamic playmaking ability, and rim protection make her an exciting future prospect.”

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What about the Liberty’s two other picks that came in the second round? Jessika Carter, a 6’5 center from Mississippi State (23rd overall), and Esmery Martinez (17th overall), a 6’2 forward out of Arizona. Both will look to challenge the Liberty’s veterans and roster locks in training camp. A league source told The Next that the league altered its rules this year to allow training camps to hold up to 18 players, up from 15 in years past. 

The Liberty will have 17 players in training camp at the end of this month, with earlier signees Stephanie Mawuli, Brianna Fraser and Ana Tadic acompanying Carter and Martinez. New York will also bring Colorado point guard Jaylyn Sherrod to training camp. New York’s front office did not epxect her to go un-drafted on Monday night. On Wednesday, the Liberty announced they had signed former Mississippi center Rita Igbokwe to a training camp contract.

But, wait a minute. The Liberty signed Fiebich and Ivana Dojkić, two players they expect to be key bench contributors in 2024. Both will be arriving in New York late, as they have international seasons to finish in Spain and Italy. With less than three years of WNBA service for both players, WNBA prioritization does not limit them.

Bringing Sherrod to camp is especially strategic alongside Dojkić’s late arrival. The Liberty need more primary ball handlers in addition to Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu. And with Fiebich arriving late as well, Marquesha Davis can get more run. 

With the 2024 WNBA Draft now in the rearview, the Liberty move on to training camp in less than two weeks knowing that they added athleticism that could yield them a high return. Could the outcome of this draft help the Liberty reach the finals once again, and finally win a WNBA championship? We don’t know that now, but what we do know is that the cacophonous fans who chanted loudly on Monday night will very much be along for the ride. Nika Mühl or not, that journey begins soon. 

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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.

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