The New York Liberty are the closest they’ll be to full strength, as three EuroBasket Women participants returned to the roster on Monday.
The New York Liberty are getting some reinforcements to possibly begin an improbable playoff push.
The team announced on Monday that center/forward Amanda Zahui B and guards Bria Hartley and Marine Johannes have been added to their active roster. That trio has returned to the United States after partaking in the 2019 FIBA EuroBasket Women competition in Latvia and Serbia. A fourth participant, center Kiah Stokes, will skip the rest of the 2019 WNBA season for personal reasons.
“There’s a lot of things to decide and figure out, but we’re excited to have (the EuroBasket players) back and have our team all together going forward,” Liberty head coach Katie Smith told ESNY prior to a 90-58 loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday afternoon. “I think that we’ve had a lot of people step up. The consistency and effort of our defense have really been the biggest key in sneaking out some of those wins.”
Veterans Zahui B and Hartley were key contributors to the Liberty before their departures. In nine games (all starts), Zahui B was averaging 11.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. She is also shooting a team-best 50.6 percent from the field. Her crowning achievement came on June 15 in Los Angeles. Zahui B paced the Liberty’s 98-92 win over the Sparks with 37 points. It was a new career-high for Zahui B and also a new top mark for any single-game scorer in the WNBA this season.
The Stockholm-born Zahui B represented her homeland of Sweden in the EuroBasket festivities. She led the Swedes in scoring (13.0 PPG) and led all tournament participants with 9.3 rebounds. Sweden’s sixth-place finish was their best posting in EuroBasket competition. It was just their third appearance in the tournament since 1989. Such a standing allows the Swedes to advance to the FIBA’s Olympic qualification tournament for 2020’s Summer Games in Tokyo.
Hartley and Johannes each represented France, who wound up in the runners-up spot.
Hartley is a North Babylon, NY native, but was allowed to partake on the French squad due to her ancestry (similar to criteria used for participation in the World Baseball Classic). She has averaged 9.0 points and 5.0 points in the WNBA thus far (five games). Her final two games both featured double-figure performances in scoring, including a season-best 17 in the Liberty’s first win of the season over Las Vegas on June 9.
Hartley would earn 11.2 points per game, capping things off with a 17-point performance in the championship final against Spain.
Johannes is set to make her WNBA debut. The Liberty signed her on March 21. Previous experience includes time with Tango Bourges Basket of the LFB, France’s premier women’s league. She also played with France’s national squad at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Johannes’ best EuroBasket performance came in the semifinals against Great Britain. She earned a game-high 20 points and 5 steals to help France advance to the final.
Stokes represented Turkey in Europe. They were eliminated in group play, but Stokes still managed to average a double-double (12.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG). She’s been with the Liberty since 2015 when they drafted her No. 11 overall. Stokes became the Liberty’s franchise leader in blocks last season (163).
With the return of the regulars came some hard decisions to make on the roster. The Liberty went 4-2 while all four were gone, reinserting themselves into the WNBA playoff conversation in the process. At 7-8, they’re a half-game behind three teams for the final playoff spots in the current standings. They’ll face one of those teams, the Chicago Sky, on Friday night on the road (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3).
“That’s the hardest part of our job in training camp and this. It’s nothing that they’ve done, it’s just the numbers,” Smith told ESNY. “I have such a respect for all the players who lace then up even knowing that could be a short time.”
Bias and Warley-Talbert were the casualties. The former made the roster after a strong preseason and training camp, putting in an average of 7.5 points over a quartet of exhibitions. She was averaging 1.9 points over 12 games at the time of her release. Her season-best performance came on June 9 in Las Vegas, scoring nine points.
Warley-Talbert was allowed to join the Liberty roster through a “hardship” claim, as a hand fracture to guard Rebecca Allen limited them to nine players. Like Bias, Warley-Talbert previously partook in Liberty training camp but did not make the opening roster. She would average 2.3 rebounds over three games after being added on June 28. She previously played with the Liberty for four seasons (2013-16).
The Liberty will complete their roster will the return of Allen, who last played on June 9 before suffering the hand injury two days later in practice. While the hand was still adorned in a cast, Allen wore warmups during Sunday afternoon’s pregame shootaround and even briefly partook. Her timetable for return remains unclear.