Practice Beat

By Ros Gold-Onwude


July 14th marked the first day of the Olympic break for the New York Liberty. There may not have been another team in the league that needed this month long break more than New York. The Liberty entered the break with an injury-riddled squad and an underwhelming record. The players were given a few days off to let both their bodies and minds rest and returned for their first full day of team practice at 11:00 am this Thursday, July 26th. In the week leading up to practice Liberty players came in for scheduled individual workouts, rehabilitation and treatment. Some players came into the gym to work out on their own. The underclassmen, Kelley Cain, Katelan Redmon, and Alex Montgomery were spotted visiting the gym together to get extra shots up. Many Liberty players also used the Olympic break to participate in community outreach, make appearances at events, and even coach up the campers at the NY Liberty Summer Basketball Camp. By the time the first day of practice rolled around, the players seemed refreshed and rejuvenated, entering gym with laughs and much improved health.

Plenette Pierson participated at full speed in every drill at practice this Thursday. Her biggest challenge will be to come into the August 16th game in good condition. Everyone on the team practiced except for DeMya Walker, who is continuing rehab on her knee.

Coach Whisenant explained that he envisions these "workouts to be like a mini training camp, except we're not trying to wear them out. Early on we will mix practice with days off and then increase the intensity in the last week and a half before our next game".

Practice started with a dynamic stretch warm up. The team's athletic trainer, Laura Ramus, moved the Liberty players up and down the court with sweeping movements, jogs, and jumps that loosened up multiple parts of the body at once. Practice moved quickly as Coach Whiz divided practice into 15 minutes of drills, 15 minutes of defense, and generously delegated 50 minutes to working on the offense. Cappie Pondexter and Leilani Mitchell took turns at the point guard position. Early in the season Coach Whiz wanted to avoid running Cappie at the one to allow her to focus on scoring, however, after waiving guard Kelly Miller, Cappie will have to add point guard play back to her list of "to dos". The practice was up-tempo with much of the conditioning and cardio coming from the drill work and defensive exercises.

Sound bites from Thursday's practice:

"We gotta have action! It just makes it harder to guard on the strong side if we have action on the weak side" -Coach Whiz making sure that there is offensive movement on both the side of the ball (strong side) and away from the ball (weak side). He does not want the weak side players standing and watching.

"All parts are interchangeable- like a machine!" -Coach Whiz explains that the "White Line" defense is less about memorizing assignments and more about understanding the concepts of rotation, denying, and help side awareness.

You asked; Coach Whiz answered.

We'd like to thank Angel Rodriguez, Derrick Coleman, Kathleen Wang, and Cheryl Smith for submitting their questions for Liberty head coach, John Whisenant. If you have a question for coach Whiz please look out for your chance to ask on our New York Liberty fan page on Facebook.

Ros: Cappie has carried the team with her rebounding, assists, and, of course, scoring. This season against the Minnesota Lynx and the Indiana Fever she exploded for 30 or more points. When she gets it going like that, are you ever surprised?

JW: "I'm never surprised, she's a competitor. We have to keep her aggressive by bringing her off screens, having good spacing and movement. Our defense creates the early broken floor situations she thrives in".

Ros: Halfway through the season you brought the rookie Katelan Redmon back to the team on a short-term contract, why?

JW: "When we brought her in we had a depleted roster. She's an offensive scorer and we needed offense. She brings size on the wing as a 6'1 shooter. She's been an offensive player her entire basketball career".

Angel Rodriguez: What are we doing to make our offense and defense better during practice? What is the focus of practice during the Olympic break?

JW: "Well, our number one goal is to get healthy. We want to come back from break healthy and well conditioned. The first two weeks of the break we will hold individual workouts and focus on skills like shooting, dribbling, one on one defensive drills and our offense. The third week we will mix practices and days off. The final week of practice we will continue to focus on our defensive execution as a team, practice against the guys, and get ready to play games again."

Derrick Coleman: Where can Alex Montgomery fit in to get more playing time?

JW: "We will look to use Alex more now that Kelly Miler is gone. Without Kelly as a backup point guard, Cappie will have to play some point and that is physically exhausting. We especially don't want Cappie to play defense on the point guard and wear herself out. This is where Alex can come in. She can use her size as an advantage when playing defense on the other team's point guard. Offensively we see her on wing or as the off forward. On offense she looks less rushed and seems to be more comfortable in the offense. She's taking the pressure of herself and seems to relax more when she's out there."

Kathleen Wang: Do certain post players work better together?

JW: "We want to have a deep post rotation. By the time the Olympic break started we were playing with only two posts. We were without our two leading post scorers and two of our most aggressive rebounders. We just need to get healthy and focus on rebounding the ball- we're getting out rebounded too much".

Cheryl Smith: What is assistant coach Norm Ellenberger's role on the coaching staff?

JW: "Coach Ellenberger focuses on our offense, our guards, and will run the walk through for the scout team in practice. His goal is to create offensive movement for our team, not just have one player go one on one with the ball. He is also a mentor of mine. When I was 27 he hired me as an assistant when he was the head coach at New Mexico. I've learned a lot about basketball strategy from him, including the "White Line" defense I ran in Sacramento and right now in New York".