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New York Liberty, WNBA players populate World Cup rosters

(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

By DOUG FEINBERG

AP Basketball Writer

SYDNEY (AP) New York has long been known as a melting pot, a city of diversity.

That moniker also works for the city's WNBA franchise, the New York Liberty, which has seven players competing in the women's World Cup for five different countries.

Overall, there are 27 players in Sydney who competed this season in the WNBA, plus a few others like Lauren Jackson, who either played in the past or were drafted but haven't competed in the league yet.

Before the U.S.-China game, Betnijah Laney and Han Xu exchanged a hug. The two Liberty players are on opposite teams a few weeks after their WNBA season ended with a playoff loss to Chicago in the opening round.

"That's one of my favorite parts about the New York team, we are so international and we've got such great talent from all over the world," Australian Sami Whitcomb said. "I think that represents our fan base as well. It's really amazing to come here and still get to see your teammates."

Laney and Sabrina Ionescu are with the U.S. Han is playing for China. Bec Allen and Whitcomb are with Australia along with New York coach Sandy Brondello and her husband Olaf Lange, who lead the host nation. Draftee Sika Kone is on Mali and fellow draftee Marine Fauthoux plays for France.

"It's really cool to have teammates here and compete against each other. It's a great experience for all of us," Laney said. "It's definitely something that's pretty cool to have the diversity and to come together. It does extend to our fan base."

Whitcomb said that the Liberty players talked about the potential of them all coming to Sydney for the World Cup.

"How fun it would be to have so many of us over here and we were all going to see each other," she said. "We didn't know how many people would make the teams, so it's amazing."

All the teams are staying in the same hotel near the arena. Whitcomb said the Liberty teammates have been getting coffee with each other in between games.

"It just goes to show we're very international that's for sure," Brondello said. "To get two players on the USA team that's always hard to break into but I'm proud of those two. They've worked so hard to get there and you know the Aussies go without saying but Han is doing a great job as well."

There'd be an eighth Liberty player in the tournament, but Marine Johannes got hurt right before it began.

New York isn't the only WNBA team well represented in Sydney: Seattle has five active players as well as Jackson. The Storm's coach, Noelle Quinn, is an assistant with Canada. The Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces have four players each.

The players all also share a common dining room for meals, giving them chances to interact off the court.

"I'm happy to see my teammates playing in the World Cup," Han said. "Before I only had two teammates but now I have a lot of them on different teams and it's nice to see them around."

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Updated September 26, 2022

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