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Spring training with the NY Liberty: Fitness is a year-round job

Liberty's Toni Young during the NY Liberty WNBA

Liberty's Toni Young during the NY Liberty WNBA practice in Greenburgh. (Patrick E. McCarthy) Credit: Liberty's Toni Young during the NY Liberty WNBA practice in Greenburgh. (Patrick E. McCarthy)

In the Greenburgh practice facility shared by both the Knicks and Rangers, the players for the Liberty are deep into spring training.

Fan favorites Cappie Pondexter and Leilani Mitchell are engaged in an intense half-court game under the watchful eye of coach and retired Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer.

While the women try out new plays, a group of men practice for a pending scrimmage against the Liberty on the far court. A mix of former pros and college ball players, these men spend the entire practice playing a rigorous full-court game before taking on the ladies.

But there’s a reason the ladies are giving this half-court practice their all: The first game of the season is just around the corner. The Liberty faces off against the Connecticut Sun on May 25.

Last season, the team was 15-19 and made the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, training doesn’t begin and end with team practice. The players each engage in their own health and fitness regimens before they even step onto the court.

“I work out six out of seven days of the week,” says Katie Smith, who in addition to playing guard for the Liberty is also a three-time gold medalist for the U.S. women’s basketball team. “I like to switch it up.”

Smith alternates between riding a bike, bodyweight training, TRX and cardio, to name a few fitness regimens.

But at 39, Smith is nearing the end of her career, and planning for life after basketball. While in the past, she spent the off-season playing for overseas leagues in Turkey and Poland, now another activity is taking up time in the off-season: going to grad school to become a registered dietitian.

A player just starting her career is rookie center Kelsey Bone, who was the Liberty’s first-round draft pick and fifth overall selection in the 2013 WNBA draft.

Bone can’t help but be floored at her achievements, considering how she almost gave up basketball for good at age 11.

“I was bad. The coach of the team at a rec center told my mom ‘she might want to find something else to do, cause she’ll never be a basketball player,’ ” says Bone. Of course, after shooting up to 6-feet at age 12, Bone thought she might give basketball another try.

But getting into prime playing shape requires intense work off the court.
“I’m really big on eating right,” explains Bone, “Also, I really like the bike and the treadmill. I always mix it up so I don’t get bored.”

Back on the court, it looks like all the training is paying off. The Liberty beat their male competitors 32-31 in the practice scrimmage.

Whether the team will carry this fire into the season remains to be seen, but one things for sure: they’ve trained hard.

The Liberty’s home opener is May 31 at the Prudential Center in Newark. Info and tickets:


Health tips from the players

Cappie Pondexter

“Eat in moderation, even though nobody can be perfect. I also like to run on the treadmill.”

Kelsey Bone

“Be carb-conscious. In college, I didn’t have a lot of time to eat right, so I really have to make time to eat balanced meals.”

Katie Smith

“Keep moving. You need active time, whether it’s riding a bike, working your core or doing TRX.”

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