Cappie Pondexter has a little extra bounce to her step, and more enthusiasm in her voice, as she lays out her expectations for the Liberty's new season.
The team added several new pieces, didn't lose any key players, got the learning curve under new head coach John Whisenant out of the way last year, and seems poised to earn a third straight postseason appearance.
Just as important is that Pondexter, the star and offensive focal point, is healthy.
"The last two seasons I broke down; last year definitely," said Pondexter, who battled an ankle injury. "Playing the point guard 35 minutes and trying to play this defense was definitely tough on my body."
The Liberty, which finished last year's regular season with a 19-15 record and lost in three games to the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference semifinals, begins its regular season on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden. The Liberty will play the rest of the season at the Prudential Center in Newark while MSG undergoes renovations.
Whisenant said one of the team's offseason priorities was getting another guard so Pondexter does not have to play as much point guard. Last season, the team had starting point guard Leilani Mitchell but not much after that, so Pondexter played alot on the point. That added minutes to her game logs and took her off her natural position: an explosive, scoring two-guard.
"Playing on the ball, in my mind, is the hardest position," said Pondexter, who averaged a team-leading 17.4 points per game last season. "You have to play defense full court and get everybody in the right position. To me, that mentally is the hardest position to play. So being able to kind of relax and lead a little bit at the two-guard position helps."
The Liberty signed 11-year veteran Kelly Miller for the backup role. Miller spent last season with Washington and averaged 7.4 points and 2.8 assists in 27 minutes. Her energy and defensive tenacity fit well with the Liberty.
"I like to get up on defense, full court, and bring my energy to the game," Miller said. "I like to take the ball and run, too, so that suits me well also."
The team also signed 6-3 forward DeMya Walker, a 12-year veteran who was an All-Star in 2005 under Whisenant with Sacramento.
"I thought this team had all the right pieces to win, and I want to win," Walker said. "The fact that I know this defense inside and out, that's where I can be an influence and help this team."
The team's second-leading scorer, Plenette Pierson (12.9 points per game in 2011), and leading rebounder Kia Vaughn (6.7 per game in 2011), are back.
One thing is clear: the offense still revolves around Pondexter, and much of the team's success still hinges upon how well she fares executing it.
"I really think it's going to be a good year for us," Pondexter said.