January 21, 2023
Bahamian food, new kicks and championship buzz: How the New York Liberty welcomed Jonquel Jones
Jones and the Liberty enter a new chapter together with the same vision
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Jonquel Jones looked up and saw herself. A Photoshopped image of her in the Liberty’s white heroine jerseys was plastered on the oculus right outside Barclays Center. “It’s so cool,” she said.
Moments later, she asked New York Liberty assistant general manager Ohemaa Nyanin to hold her phone so she could pose in front of the display. Wearing a teal green suit paired with a black turtleneck and black sparkly loafers, she looked at the 10 cameras that were straight ahead as photographers snapped what they needed to.
After being officially traded to the New York Liberty four days before, Jones was officially a VIP in Brooklyn. People lingered behind the barricades to watch Jones and even take a selfie with the 2021 WNBA MVP from afar while she took her pictures in front of the oculus and even with her new black Liberty jersey.
“To be in a city like New York … it speaks for itself,” Jones had said during her introductory press conference moments before.
Jones wanted a change after the organization she had spent her entire WNBA career with, the Connecticut Sun, made a bunch of changes as well. She requested a trade and will now be playing for an original WNBA franchise in the largest media market in the country with a different coaching staff and teammates.
But all of that change comes with a lot of similarities in the Liberty and Jones’ vision and end goal. The Liberty and Jones are made from similar cloth. Both have dealt with a lot of playoff heartache, and both have had to work hard to get to where they are now. Both have been underdogs and underestimated, but they are now seemingly on a path toward the top of the WNBA.
Those similarities and shared philosophies were things that Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb had noticed for some time. Just a year ago, Kolb prepared to meet with Jones in free agency. A jersey was made with her name on it, but it was stashed away after the Sun cored Jones.
Now that Kolb’s vision has been realized and Jones is in New York, both parties are jonesing (the pun is, of course, intended) to win a WNBA championship. “People are talking about it already, about winning the championship,” Jones said on Friday. “I go get something to eat and people are talking to me about it. So [the fans are] really excited about it.”
‘This is what a professional locker room looks like‘
When Jones explained what drew her to the Liberty, she was quick to mention what caught her eye besides the resources and city.
“Playing against Liberty last year, I saw a shift in the culture, that was for sure,” she said. “The way that they played high-octane basketball, playing both sides of the ball, a lot of young talent that was very lively. And you can see that they were invested in winning, and like I said, changing that culture.”
Those changes that Jones noticed were a credit to the work that head coach Sandy Brondello and her staff implemented so quickly in New York. Jones noticed how the Liberty went from turning the ball over 29 times in a blowout loss to Connecticut on May 17 to defeating the Sun barely a month later. She noticed how bright of a star 25-year-old guard Sabrina Ionescu is and will be in this league and how playing with her could make Jones even better.
When Jones got to Brooklyn as a member of the Liberty rather than an opponent, it was reinforced for her why she chose New York. When she was entered the Liberty’s state-of-the-art locker room for the first time on Friday, Jones remarked: “This is what a professional locker room looks like.” And when she opened her locker, a new pair of Kevin Durant basketball shoes were waiting for her.
It didn’t end there. The Liberty catered a meal that included some of Jones’ favorite Bahamian foods, including fish and guava duff, which is a dessert made with fresh guavas, dough and butter rum sauce. Bahamian officials and members of the Bahamas Consulate of New York Isaac Chester Cooper, Leroy F. Major and Jeffrey Rodgers also attended.
The Liberty’s message to Jones has been sent and received: They want to take excellent care of the first MVP they have had in years.
Brondello echoed that sentiment when she met with Jones’ mother on FaceTime. She relayed her excitement and that she looked forward to meeting in person, and she stressed that she and her staff would take “good care” of Jones.
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How does New York’s identity change?
The celebration on Friday signaled another new era for the Liberty. They are aiming to be at the top of the WNBA pecking order, a place where they haven’t been since 2017. Since the Liberty moved to Barclays Center prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the narrative outside of Brooklyn has always been that the Liberty’s culture is a hard-working group of players that reflects the grittiness of New York.
But with one of the best players in the league on the roster, how does that approach change — or does it? Brondello preferred to call it an evolution or an elevation rather than a change and pointed toward the the addition of Kayla Thornton. Thornton made a meaningful impact for the Wings on defense during her tenure in Dallas. With Thornton on the floor in 2022, the Wings gave up less free throw attempts and created more turnovers versus when she sat on the bench, according to WNBA Advanced stats. Also, she increased the Wings’ efficiency off of offensive rebounds by 23.60 points per 100 possessions. She is someone who will maintain the grit and energy that the Liberty always want to be known for.
But Brondello also questioned the idea that talent doesn’t yield to grit. “The names of players doesn’t mean you’re going to win a championship, does it? Now it’s all about coming together and building the teamwork that we need to be great. And JJ has had opportunities to play in the WNBA Finals, and I think that experience will help us as we move forward.”
It’s not only that Jones’ playoff experience will help the Liberty in their championship pursuits. It’s also that playing for the Liberty gives Jones an opportunity that she didn’t have in Connecticut to assume a more vocal leadership presence. She understands that the Liberty have players who haven’t had a ton of playoff experience, and she hopes that she’s a person who someone like Ionescu can seek out.
“Being in Connecticut, I can tell them firsthand that you may think that you have more [playoff] opportunities, but no opportunity is as important as the one that you have before you right there and right now,” she said. “And so I think that’s going to be extremely important is letting them understand that every opportunity matters, and every chance you get to step on the court is [an] opportunity to play your best. And the future is not promised. So in order for us to maximize our potential, play at the level that we know that we’re going to be capable of playing, which is a very high level … we’re gonna have to be willing to sacrifice and play hard every game.”
Jones will help Liberty put ‘best foot forward’ in free agency
And what if the Liberty’s ceiling and potential are only rising? What if they add even more five-star talent to their 2023 roster? When Jones was officially introduced as a part of the Liberty organization, it was 2:30 p.m. ET on Friday, just hours before the negotiation period of free agency began.
While Jones was enjoying the warm welcome from her new team, former WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart and star point guard Courtney Vandersloot’s impending free agency lingered in the background. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on Friday that Stewart will meet with the Seattle Storm, the Minnesota Lynx, the Washington Mystics and the Liberty. Shelburne also reported that Vandersloot’s free agency “will factor into Stewart’s decision,” which fits with what The Next‘s Howard Megdal reported earlier this week, that there is mutual interest between the Liberty and Vandersloot.
New York, a franchise that declared on Friday that it’s “hell-bent on bringing a championship” to Brooklyn, will also continue to face tough decisions. Since Kolb took over as general manager in 2019, the Liberty have prided themselves on player development. They have been committed to younger players they’ve drafted, such as 2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere, guard DiDi Richards and forward/guard Jocelyn Willoughby.
Brondello noted on Friday how excited she is to “integrate” Jones in with the Liberty’s current core. But as I’ve questioned countless times, who exactly is that? It’s not clear whether, if the Liberty successfully court other five-star talents, they can have their cake and eat it, too.
It’s worth noting that, when SNY’s Maria Marino interviewed Jones following her introductory presser, Jones mentioned 2020 WNBA Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney by name. “I’m excited to play with Sabrina, obviously, [and] Betnijah as well.”
But what about the rest of who New York currently has under contract for 2023? While the entire New York coaching staff was in attendance at Barclays Center on Friday, Richards and Stefanie Dolson, who are both on team marketing deals this offseason, weren’t in attendance. The only New York player to embrace Jones’ arrival publicly on social media has been Ionescu, who Kolb confirmed was on the Zoom call that ended up convincing Jones to ask for a trade to New York.
Laney has been in Tokyo, Japan, living and training with her husband Jordan Hamilton while he plays for Shiga Lakestars. Onyenwere and Willoughby are both focused on their overseas seasons in Spain and Australia, respectively.
If the Liberty do land Stewart, Vandersloot or both, it’s unclear how many and which of the aforementioned players remain in New York, especially if Stewart requires a supermax salary and New York has to give Seattle assets in a sign-and-trade. Two players that appear off limits in any deal to land Stewart are reserved players Han Xu and Marine Johannès.
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What is clear to New York at this moment is its intent to build around not only Ionescu but Jones as well. While Jones has one year left on the contract she signed a year ago with Connecticut, Kolb appears confident that Jones will be in Brooklyn for longer. “I think they’re gonna be a dynamic duo for a long time, I really do,” he said on Friday.
Building around Ionescu and Jones means that both will be integral in convincing top free agent talent to join them. Jones was asked about the role she envisions herself having as the Liberty attempt to woo more star players, and she said she is ready for anything.
“Anything that the organization needs me to do, I’m there. Obviously, we want to put our best foot forward,” Jones said. “And I’m all in on whatever they want to do. … It hasn’t started yet. But when it does, we will be there.”
On Friday, the Liberty made Jones feel like the star that she knows she is. Regardless of what happens next in free agency, both parties are over the moon that they chose each other.
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.