The New York Liberty opened the 2016 WNBA Free Agency period with a big splash, landing prized unrestricted free agent guard Shavonte Zellous. A WNBA All-Star in 2013, when she was also named the league’s Most Improved Player, Zellous brings toughness and versatility to a Liberty squad that went 23-11 last season and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. She took the time while playing for her international squad in Turkey to talk about the decision to sign with New York, what she will bring to the team, and her interests off the court.
Last year, you played with Liberty forward Tina Charles in Turkey, how much did getting to know her factor into your decision to sign with the Liberty?
“It factored in a lot. Last year, Tina and I talked about how we couldn’t wait to play each other, and you could just tell how hungry she is. Playing against different people in the league, you usually don’t really know much about them, you just know of them. I got to know who Tina really was, you could see how excited she was, and she knew that changes would be made to make the Liberty better. Playing against New York last year, you see how young the team is, but also bringing Tanisha Wright there and Swin Cash to help get them over the top in terms of veteran leadership, doing what it takes to get to the next level and knowing how hard it is each and every game. Bringing me in, I have experience being in that position too, when your back is against the wall and things aren’t going your way, how to overcome.”
What does it meant to you to play in New York and call Madison Square Garden your home court?
“Who wouldn’t want to play in an environment like Madison Square Garden? Just playing, not only those playoff games, but regular season games there, seeing how passionate the fans are, left an impression. Anything that happens, good or bad, they’re still behind you. I wanted that atmosphere, the fans bring excitement each and every game and you know the gym isn’t going to be quiet. It’s New York, we’re on the center stage, everybody is right there. It’s awesome to be able to play in that arena.”
Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer originally drafted you in Detroit, and you started your career with him. What do you recall about that experience?
“One thing about Bill Laimbeer is that he was always about his business, you can do what you want to do, but while we’re on the court, we know we’re going to handle business. I love the way Bill coaches, he’s very offensive minded, he’ll put you in situations to make you better. I think he brings the best out of every player, look at what Tina did playing under him, just trusting and believing, and how much of an impact he had on her. Playing with Bill and getting to know him the little time that I did, he’s going to bring the best out of you no matter what, he’s not going to put you in a situation where he doesn’t think you can succeed.”
“Playing with Bill and getting to know him the little time that I did, he’s going to bring the best out of you no matter what, he’s not going to put you in a situation where he doesn’t think you can succeed.”
Talk a little bit about your game, what you will bring to the Liberty on the court?
“Going into my rookie year, everybody knew that I was attacking the basket. I was one of the best in the league at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. I’ve kind of expanded on that – not only can I drive to the basket and create contact, I have a nice mid-range game, I can step out and shoot the three if need be. I’m focused on continuously expanding my game, not being comfortable with where I’m at, because a lot of players can get comfortable, and that’s not who I am. I want to be a versatile player that can do it all. I can attack, I can go off the bounce, shoot the three. I can get you to the free throw line and knock down my free throws. As far as defending, I don’t care how small I am or how tall you think you are, one thing you’ll never do is out-work me or think you’re going to out-tough me or bully me. That is another thing I learned from Bill as well. Back in those Detroit days, no one was going to out-bully us and I think that mentality just carried over to who I am today. I don’t care, you can be 6-6 but I’m going to talk smack to you, if I have to foul you I’m going to foul you. I’m not scared of anybody, that’s just my mentality and as years have gone by I think people have noticed that.”
What are you trying to work on during this offseason?
“Well I’m going to continue to work on coming off the ball screens and knocking down my jump shot. Continuously improving my 3-point shooting is what I’m really focused on right now. I stay in the gym to get extra shots just to improve it, you never can work on your shot too much, you can always get better at that.”
“I don’t care how small I am or how tall you think you are, one thing you’ll never do is out-work me or think you’re going to out-tough me or bully me.
The Liberty takes a lot of pride as an organization in being heavily involved in the community, is that something that means a lot to you?
“In Indiana we focused on the same thing, making a difference in the community. What I like the most about it is helping these young girls, or these young guys, who really don’t have anyone to look up to. It’s something I really take seriously. Growing up, I didn’t really have a mentor that I could look up to or go to a camp, just to learn the basic fundamentals of basketball. So anytime I am able to get out to be with some kids that are in need of a mentor, I’ve always been huge on that. Getting in the community is something that I think everybody should be involved in because every kid needs a dream, every kid needs someone to look up to. Everybody needs some type of hope no matter what it is.”
Are there any charitable organizations or causes that carry special significance for you?
“Breast health awareness is important to me because I had a cousin that had breast cancer, and it kind of hits home when it’s in your family. You hear so many stories of people being affected by it, like Tiffany Jackson just found out she had it, so it really hits when it’s in your home. So that is something I have really been involved with, talking about my experience of going through it. Thank god my cousin survived, she’s a nine-year survivor, but I know how hard it is on a family.”
Who would you say had the biggest influence on you growing up?
“I would say my Mom was my biggest role model, just because she, back in the day, we would go through all the struggles, headaches and stressing, and just having her there to comfort me in the times where you really need it, you know that mentor, that role model, the most. Even to my pro days, she’s always the one person I know will never leave me no matter what the situation is. I’ve always looked up to that and I always tell her thank you, you don’t know how much you’ve meant to me in my life, just being there for me.”
What about off the court, any hobbies? How do you spend your free time?
“I have a lake outside of my house, so I like to fish, being from Florida, we fish a lot. I used to do that with my grand dad and my dad all the time, just go out fishing and get peace of mind on the lake. I will shop, I think I do too much shopping, another reason I’m excited about New York. I like spending time with my family just because we don’t get as much time to hang with them because we have to travel to Europe and then the WNBA season is so busy during the summer time, so hanging with my family is a big time priority of mine.”