Ex-Knight ushers in new day for Liberty
Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, a two-time WNBA champ, gives New York hope
- Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesCappie Pondexter has averaged 19.2 points per game over four WNBA seasons.
When you've won two WNBA championships in the last three years, it might seem easy to conjure up a successful formula, which is what Cappie Pondexter has been doing her entire professional career. Despite four trips to the Finals, a title has eluded the Liberty since the league's inception in 1997, but the addition of Pondexter at guard in March gives the team a shot.
"I want to make it happen for them," Pondexter said. "Our franchise works hard to make it happen."
Pondexter will be one of three former Rutgers players taking the court for the Liberty in the team's season opener against Chicago on Sunday. Pondexter actually recruited Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn, the other Scarlet Knights who will be playing for the Liberty this season, to Rutgers. This reunion wasn't planned, however.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE LIBERTY
1. In March, the Liberty pulled a blockbuster trade to get Rutgers product Cappie Pondexter to New York from Phoenix, where she helped the Mercury win two WNBA titles in three seasons. "I'm all about opportunity and growth and for me New York was the place to be," Pondexter said.
2. The Liberty are built to win. Pondexter, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Nicole Powell have four championship rings between them.
3. General manager Carol Blazejowski has been there since the inaugural 1997 season and is the longest-tenured GM in the league.
4. Kia Vaughn was raised in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium, and used to walk past Madison Square Garden every day on the way to high school.
5. Anne Donovan will coach the Seton Hall women's team when the WNBA season is over.
"It's a coincidence," Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski said. "Anybody in this league is going to want Cappie on their team. She's one of the best players in the sport."
Pondexter was fourth in scoring last season, averaging 19.1 points per game for the Phoenix Mercury. Only Diana Taurasi (20.4), Becky Hammon (19.5) and Lauren Jackson (19.2) averaged more.
Carson in particular may be best remembered for her grace in the aftermath of comments by radio host Don Imus, which were interpreted by many as race-related and derisive. Although it was a negative moment for the program, Rutgers and those players may have gained some fans by the way the program responded to the 2007 incident.
"I thought it was such a pivotal moment for athletes, regardless of gender, but to have female athletics exposed like that," Liberty coach Anne Donovan said. "How stereotypical and negative it was, and how classy Rutgers was in handling that."
Blazejowski said the players on that team would no doubt prefer to be recognized for their accomplishments -- and certainly this season is when they can achieve on the professional level. The Liberty revamped after a 13-21 season in which they finished last in the Eastern Conference.
"After last year's disappointing season we just had to take a look and say, let's start over," Blazejowski said.
Donovan admits that it is a challenge to pull together so many moving parts so quickly, but with a more experienced group of players with championship experience, she thinks it will happen quickly.
"Our chemistry will have to evolve, but so far it's been fantastic," Donovan said.
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