Rebecca Allen left in 2019 and came back two years later to a whole new world, a brand-new home, and a completely different team.
The Liberty’s veteran guard — the longest-tenured player on the team — departed for the EuroLeague at the end of the WNBA season that year and, while playing with Poland’s Arka Gdynia, watched as the COVID-19 epidemic ravaged Asia, then Europe, and finally the United States. She made it back to her home country of Australia, a place significantly less touched by the virus, and made her choice: She was staying home and watching the 2020 bubble season from afar.
Now, having finally returned one game ago from playing with Valencia, in Spain, she’s gotten the chance to reflect on everything that has happened, and look around at an unfamiliar landscape.
"Ultimately, you feel like you’re with a totally different team, but for me, that’s an exciting factor," Allen said. "Change is always a good thing. Change allows growth. We’ve got quite a young team and that means we’re ready to run. We’re athletic, you know, and we’re also all willing to learn. I think that’s a really big thing, too. I think change in atmosphere has been a really good thing for us here."
Allen is the sole holdover from the 2019 roster since Kiah Stokes didn’t participate in that season. Stokes and Allen are the only remnants of the Tina Charles-era teams. This is also the first year the Liberty are playing in their new home, the Barclays Center — before that, they played in the Florida bubble and Westchester County Center. That change, too, Allen said, was something to applaud.
"The way that we’re getting treated is incredible," Allen said. "It’s something where you really see the professionalism of the league really stepping up and I think this organization is really setting the tone for that as well and it’s a great feeling. There’s a respect factor of being a female athlete but ultimately wanting to be seen as an athlete without having to say that I’m a female in the beginning. I think we’ve got to keep that conversation going."
Allen said returning to the States for the 2020 season was never much of an option in her mind. With the pandemic raging, going from a place of relative security to a country seeing ongoing spikes in dead and infected didn’t seem like the right choice. She was also able to continue to tweak her game while serving as a remote confidante for the team back in Florida. She doesn't regret the choice.
"For me, it was just extremely stressful," she said. "All the way in Australia, it’s quite far away and the situation wasn’t as bad there and I’m listening to the media and hearing about how bad COVID is in the States, in Europe and how, for me, that trip just seemed really daunting. So, I just put health first."