The basketball rose for the opening tip of the Liberty’s opening preseason game against the Chinese National Team inside Barclays Center Thursday night. Han Xu tipped it to a teammate -- one in Liberty green and not China red.
Han stood out with Team China at FIBA Women’s World Cup last year. The Liberty took the 6-9 center with the second pick of the second round in the WNBA draft last month. So now she was making her debut for the other side. It was quite a debut in the Liberty’s 89-71 win.
The slender 19-year-old will have to prove herself against physical WNBA players, but she showed off her agility and her touch around the basket in her 21:27 of playing time. Han finished 6-for-8 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the line for 19 points, which went with five rebounds and three assists.
“This made me think about the hard work that I put through,” Han said through an interpreter.
Kia Nurse also scored 19, and Tina Charles contributed 13. Second overall pick Asia Durr scored six in her debut.
The Liberty, coming off a franchise-worst 7-27 season, will play mostly at Westchester County Center in White Plains for the second straight year. This was the first of two Barclays dates. It drew 4,115. The other game is against Seattle Aug. 11.
“What I’m committed to is to increase the fan base of the New York Liberty,” new owner Joseph Tsai said before the game. “Where they’re playing now in Westchester County is not ideal because the size of the venue is limited to about 3,000 seats (configured for 2,319 last season). Plus, it’s a place where it’s kind of hard to get to, not that accessible to the fans.
“We want to improve that situation, exploring all possibilities. If there’s an opportunity for the team to play more games at Barclays Center, I’d definitely welcome it. But it’s not entirely my decision. … Hopefully, we can work out some things where the team can get better exposure in bigger venues, and Barclays Center is a perfect venue for the New York Liberty.”
Han left everyone at Barclays with a positive first impression.
“The one thing we love about her is she’s able to score the basketball in a variety of ways, whether it’s around rim or knocking down 15-, 17-footers, and even at three-point range,” coach Katie Smith said. “That helps us immensely.”