There’s obviously a huge difference between virtual camp and the real thing. But virtual camp has helped the Liberty’s new rookie leader up until this point.
“I think it’s been super beneficial that we’ve had two and a half months prior to this to be able to learn the offense,” No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu said over a conference call on Sunday.
The Liberty is less than five days away from opening tip-off is expected to open the regular season against Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and the Seattle Storm on July 25. Not exactly an easy start for any of the Liberty’s newcomers or seasoned players.
The new-look, rookie-laden team has been preparing for this moment since its virtual programming started, well before anyone even knew about the Florida bubble plan.
Aside from workout plans the players have been doing from home, new head coach Walt Hopkins has also been giving them quizzes to see who actually knew the plays he planned to run once in-person training camp began. Ionescu was excited to take and ace each of those exams since she even heard about them — which she has.
It’s one thing to memorize plays off a list and another to put them to the test in real-time action.
“It’s easy to get on a computer screen and watch plays and then it’s a completely different story when you got to get out there with a team,” Ionescu said over a web conference call Sunday. “There’s a defense, you have to read and then run the plays... Before getting here, I knew every single play and I think that’s helped my transition a little bit because now I’m just reading instead of trying to memorize plays at the same time.”
The Liberty’s plan of action so far has been to play without having to call every single offensive set throughout the game. Hopkins and the Liberty’s assistant coaches have impressed upon the players to rely on their basketball IQ to level up their game.
“I really took that kind of as a blessing in disguise that time that we’ve had to learn the offense, learn the players, kind of watch film on their college careers and other WNBA crews, and just see where they can fit into the offense and if I’m running it, I’m able to set people up for shots,” Ionescu said. “I think it’s gone really well and during the short amount of time that we’ve had to practice, I think we’ve done a great job and still have some time to practice.”
It’s a system the generational talent has been asked time and time again since getting drafted. So she’s known exactly what she was walking into since hearing her name picked by the Liberty.
“I think it’s exactly what I’ve done at Oregon,” Ionescu said. “So I’ve really enjoyed it.”
With many of the Liberty’s would-be returning players opting to forgo the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the team currently has only 10 players down in Florida getting ready to start the season on Saturday.
They 11th spot they plan to hopefully fill with rookie Megan Walker, who is recovering from coronavirus and does not have an estimated date of return considering her condition and needing to have a negative test before even making that decision to travel to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The last spot is anyone’s guess. GM Jonathan Kolb says the team hasn’t been in a rush to fill the vacancy, considering the COVID-19 protocol the league is working with and the restrictions in place around the country where other free agents are.
“As far as the extra roster spot, we’re still evaluating the type of player that we’d like to have in that spot,” Kolb said Sunday. “But we’re not going to rush anything so right now we’re going to stand pat for the moment, but we’re very much looking to see who we can bring in.”
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