Liberty Win First Game, After Five Losses to Start 2012

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Head Coach and General Manager John Whisenant inherited a New York Liberty team last season that had a record of 22-12 in 2010 and lost in the Women’s National Basketball Association Eastern Conference Finals, 0-2, to the Atlanta Dream.

In his initial season as head coach, Whisenant led the Liberty to a 19-15 record and an Eastern Conference Semifinals berth in the WNBA Playoffs. The Liberty lost to the Indiana Fever, 2-1, in the three-game semifinals series.

Despite the Liberty starting the season with a record of 1-5, forward Plenette Pierson has been a rock in the paint, averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game. Photo by Albert Coqueran

This season the ladies of the Liberty are in trouble. Moreover, they are in more trouble than they ever anticipated after finishing in fourth place in the East last year and only two games behind the first place Connecticut Sun.

The Liberty’s record is 1-5 this season as of Sunday, June 3. Even more exasperating is that their one win only surfaced after five straight losses. “It is definitely frustrating. We are trying to find a way right now and it is terrible,” commented Liberty leading scorer Cappie Pondexter, who is averaging 18.3 points per game this year.

Pondexter is also four-time WNBA All-Star and has been with the Liberty since 2010.  “We go the last two years from the Eastern Conference Finals to being eliminated in the first round, to now starting at ground zero again,” pronounced the Liberty shooting guard.

However, the Liberty’s tribulations did not begin at the start of this season. Their troubles keep evolving from the spring of 2011, when forward Janel McCarville decided that paying a $1,000 a day fine was unacceptable for being late to training camp, for wanting to go home to see her family, after her Italian team played late into the season.

McCarville decided instead to forfeit the 2011 WNBA season, despite the fact that she is still under contract with the Liberty. The McCarville decision was a double-whammy to the Liberty, as they had decided not to re-sign center Taj McWilliams-Franklin after the 2010 season.

McWilliams-Franklin went on to win the WNBA Championship the very next season with the Minnesota Lynx. She averaged eight points and six rebounds a game and played in all 34 games, starting 33 games for the Lynx in 2011.

Whisenant was very much aware of the negative effect McCarville sitting out last season had on his team. Therefore, he visited McCarville in Italy during the off-season to get a clear understanding whether she was returning to the team in 2012. “While I love the Liberty and the WNBA, I’ve decided to sit out the 2012 season to spend more time with my family,” decided McCarville.

Therefore McCarville, who is still under contract with the Liberty in 2012, has renounced two seasons with the team. She averaged nine points and six rebounds with Familia Schio in Italy in 2010.

And again consequences ensue for the Liberty from McCarville’s latest decision. In 2011, the Liberty acquired center Quanitra Hollingsworth from the Lynx to help fill the void of losing McCarville and McWiliams-Franklin.

Hollingsworth made great progress under Whisenant’s system last year and was expected to be an impact player this season, but Hollingsworth opted this season to take Turkey’s money and citizenship and play for the 2012 Turkish Olympic Team.

Furthermore, Hollingsworth decision to play in Turkey this season influenced the Liberty’s 2012 WNBA Draft selection. They lost “Q” a week before the draft and without McCarville again this year, they needed a post player once again.

Therefore, they selected six-foot six-inch Kelly Cain from the University of Tennessee in the first round. Cain sustained a knee injury and had hip surgery in college, but she did play in Turkey over the winter. Consequentially, McCarville’s failure to fulfill her contract with the Liberty just keeps on giving: Whiesnant headaches that is.

The Liberty, after six games this season, remain in last place in the WNBA Eastern Conference. In a 34-game WNBA regular season things move very fast and so better the Liberty in the remaining 28 games.

At the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Greenburgh on Thursday, May 31, despite a 0-4 start, the Liberty seemed relaxed and confident about the 2012 season. “I am pretty relaxed, the only pressure I feel is winning. I definitely see some positives coming out of this, the losses sent up some red flags,” revealed Liberty guard Essence Carson.

The Liberty had four days to practice from Saturday, May 25 through Friday, June 1, since losing to the Dream, 100-74, in Atlanta on May 22. In addition, four players and three starters returned from playing in Europe three days before training camp and this was their initial quality practice session with the team this season.

Liberty center Kia Vaughn, forward Nicole Powell, forward Plenette Pierson and rookie center Kelly Cain all played for championships in Europe and arrived at camp late. Powell and Pierson did not get into camp until the day before the Liberty’s first exhibition game.

The four days of practice did not seem to help as the Liberty lost their fifth straight game to the Fever, 91-68, on Saturday, June 2 in Indiana.

Nevertheless, when the Liberty returned to the Prudential Center (their home for the next two seasons, as the transformation of Madison Square Garden continues), they played their best game of the season in the back-half of a home-and-home against the Fever.

The Liberty beat the Fever by 15 points, 87-72. This is the same Fever team that had beaten the Liberty by 23 points the previous day. Five Liberty players scored in double-figures. Pondexter scored 25 points in the game.  Carson and Pierson contributed 16 points each, Vaughn had 10 points and Leilani Mitchell dropped in 13 points.

“For very different reasons we have dug ourselves in a hole and we are trying to work our way out of it. However, I am pleased with the attitude of my team,” stated Whisenant, who resides in White Plains during the season. “You can give a lot of explanations and excuses but nobody really cares, we just have to work it out and I believe we can do it.”






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