Walt Hopkins named new head coach in New York

Walt Hopkins is Brooklyn bound: the Liberty have made a commitment to a fresh start in Brooklyn with a former Reeve Assistant at the helm

Walt Hopkins, former assistant coach of the Minnesota Lynx, will be the eighth head coach in New York Liberty franchise history.  Hopkins will be introduced at a press conference in Brooklyn on Wednesday, January 8. The news was first reported by Doug Feinberg and has been independently confirmed by High Post Hoops.

Hopkins comes to New York with four years working within WNBA franchises including three years as Cheryl Reeve’s assistant from 2017-2019 and one year with the Tulsa Shock as a player development coach.

The combination of Hopkins and New York GM Jonathan Kolb is among the youngest in the league — both are under 40.

The news of the franchise’s eighth head coach comes amid other Liberty developments that will change the nature of the franchise. Before moving on from WNBA legend and former head coach Katie Smith this past October, New York received the number one overall pick in the 2020 draft. Days following the decision to not move forward with Smith, the team announced a new permanent home court at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The team will back in the five boroughs of New York City for a full season for the first time since 2017.

By selecting the projected phenom Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty would aim to fill voids that plagued them all season long in 2019: turnovers and inconsistency at the point.

With the new CBA still yet to be officially ratified, only six players from the 2019 roster remained signed for 2020. This includes Asia Durr, New York’s second overall pick in 2019, who only played in 16 games in seafoam and black due to a lingering hip injury. Coming off surgery and months of rest without overseas play, all eyes will be on the explosive guard along with draft class buddy Han Xu, who isn’t a teenager anymore.  2019 All-Star Game starter Kia Nurse, center Amanda Zahui B., swingwoman Rebecca Allen and point guard Brittany Boyd round out the group of who is confirmed to represent this coming May.

After talking to GM Kolb in October following the move to Brooklyn and the departure from Smith, I determined what factors must be considered to move the Liberty into their new era. Hopkins’ many goals for New York should include and not be limited to:

1) Developing a team culture and a culture sensitivity– In 2019 New York had players from six different countries — along with a focus on team accountability. Hopefully he will have the ability to form a deep coaching staff behind him, something the Liberty have struggled to maintain since their days at MSG.

2) Player development on both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Aside from Tina Charles and Tanisha Wright, Bria Hartley had the most WNBA experience of the entire 2019 roster. All eyes will be on the sophomore campaigns of both Durr and Han. Hopkins must commit to Han’s development while he should also look toward transforming and building on the enormous leaps made last season by Zahui B. and Allen.

3) Defense. Hopkins must foster New York’s offensive strengths (quickness in transition, floor spacers, and strength in the paint ), while also overhauling the Liberty’s approach to defense. In addition to developing Ionescu at the point and teaching new offensive systems, championships are won with a formidable defensive front.

A longterm goal of Kolb and Hopkins ought to be bringing a WNBA championship to New York, a city that hasn’t won a basketball championship in at least thirty years. Whether or not that’s done with free agent talent or development of the current young arsenal remains to be seen. But Charles, the Liberty’s all-time leading scorer, has yet to accomplish one of her childhood aspirations,  winning a championship in a Liberty uniform.

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