New York Liberty’s Amanda Zahui B. brings overseas success home to WNBA

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 16: Amanda Zahui B.
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 16: Amanda Zahui B. /

For many, the WNBA offseason isn’t much of an offseason at all.

Overseas commitments in the winter mean that one season blends into the next with little-to-no break in between. Conventional game development can be tough.

Amanda Zahui B. feels she had the best of both worlds in 2016-17, and believes she and the Liberty are better for it.

The third-year center spent the offseason in Russia playing for Nadezhda Orenburg. While speaking to the media on Wednesday, she lauded her competition there, which included a Yekaterinburg team that boasted Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, in helping her improve heading into this WNBA season.

“I’m coming in with more confidence and a better understanding of the game,” she told The Summitt.

Over 22 games in Russia, Zahui B. averaged 11.6 points and 4.6 rebounds, shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the line. Her best game came in February against Chevakata, when she dropped 30 points, nine rebounds, and four steals.

Perhaps most importantly, the coaches in Russia cut her no slack. They made her run. A lot, she says. And as a result, she’s in the best shape of her young career.

That extra work has helped build momentum that she feels can lead to a stronger WNBA season than her first season in New York in 2016.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – AUGUST 26: Amanda Zahui B.
SAN ANTONIO, TX – AUGUST 26: Amanda Zahui B. /

It wasn’t necessarily a bad year for Zahui B. She played in 33 games, primarily off the bench, and provided valuable minutes relieving a talented starting front court. Over 11 minutes per game, she showed proficiency on the glass and scoring ability, even if she did foul more than hoped.

“Last year I struggled,” she said. “I went into my head a lot and this year I’m trying to do the opposite. Tina Charles told me to be slow to anger and quick to listen and that’s something I really listened to and I took to heart.”

It’s part of the reason why this year was supposed to, and still could be, different. But if the Liberty’s lackluster season-opening win over San Antonio was any indication, neither Zahui B. nor her team is there quite yet.

New York was never truly threatened in that game, but also was not able to pull away from a team missing three key players. Head coach Bill Laimbeer blasted his team after, particularly his bench, which was supposed to extend, or at least maintain, the Liberty’s lead as the starters sat out.

Instead, San Antonio made a late run, forcing Laimbeer to put Charles back in the game, something he didn’t want to do.

Zahui B. had a rough game herself, playing just six minutes and picking up three fouls.

But if a team is going to struggle so mightily, it might as well be in a wakeup-call win that allows the team to refocus.

“Everyone’s gotta step it up and play on a new level,” Zahui B. said. “I feel like we have done a great job of that during practice and we will translate it into the game [Thursday].”

That game is against the mighty Minnesota Lynx at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, and can be seen on ESPN2 at 7 PM EST. Now is the time for Zahui B. to find her form.