Top pick could make WNBA debut in Stars-Liberty matchup
The 2017 WNBA season kicks off at 3 p.m. ET Saturday at Madison Square Garden with two teams on the opposite end of the spectrum facing off.
Eastern Conference power New York hosts last season’s worst team, San Antonio, and dynamic top draft pick Kelsey Plum.
The Stars had the top pick for the first time in franchise history and drafted Plum out of Washington, where she finished her college career with an NCAA-record 3,527 points.
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The “James Harden of the women’s game” earned six national player of the year awards and can’t wait to join Moriah Jefferson and Kayla McBride for the opening tip.
“It’s an honor to be a member of the Stars,” Plum told reporters after being drafted. “I’m super excited. I’m going to go in and be super competitive and tough and see what happens.”
Plum ranks second — male or female — in NCAA history for career points, behind Pete Maravich’s 3,667. She finished her college career averaging 25.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in 139 games. She also broke a 33-year-old NCAA career free throw record, sinking 912.
“I’m really excited about their vision,” Plum told the San Antonio Express-News about the rising Stars.
Plum has been slowed by a sprained right ankle suffered during the team’s May 4 practice, and her status for this weekend has not been announced, according to the paper.
The Stars also had the fifth pick in the draft and took guard Nia Coffey out of Northwestern. Coffey scored in double figures in 66 consecutive games for the Wildcats. She also had more than 1,000 points and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds.
Even with all the excitement surrounding the Stars, including the coaching debut of Vicki Johnson, one of the best players to ever put on a Liberty uniform, the Stars face an uphill battle.
Two straight seasons of leading the Eastern Conference in wins have ended early in disappointment for New York.
As they embark on the 2017 season, the Liberty believe more than ever that now is their time to win the franchise’s first WNBA title.
With one of the league’s marquee stars in Tina Charles, the Liberty will have experience on their side against the Stars.
Charles, who finished second in the MVP voting to Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike, led the league in scoring (21.5) and rebounding (9.9) and once again will be the focal point of the offense.
“You definitely use it, when you’re not able to accomplish the goals that you want, as motivation,” Charles said as the Liberty prepared for the home opener. “I look forward to the little things like the growth of our players. Everyone’s done that and we are gonna have a great season.”
Guard Sugar Rodgers (14.5) was the only Liberty player other than Charles to average double figures last season. To ease the scoring load on Rodgers and Charles, the Liberty went out and added Bria Hartley in a trade and drafted Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen.
Hartley, a New York native and former University of Connecticut star, has averaged just over 7.0 points per game in her first three years.
Allen was second in the nation in assists last season for the Fighting Irish.
“Now we have three guards who can shoot, who can get up and down and can attack, and that’s going to be a little bit of a change in style we have this year,” coach Bill Laimbeer beamed at the Liberty’s media day.
Defense remains a hallmark of any Laimbeer-coached team. New York led the league in defensive field-goal percentage last season, holding teams to 41 percent. Their interior defense was outstanding as they limited opponents to a league-low 50 percent shooting on attempts inside five feet.