For the Liberty, Sugar is best served with a Spoon.
There are skills that separate decent offensive players from the elite, such as the ability to create a shot or power through contact rather than being a one-dimensional shooter.
Teresa Weatherspoon knows this. As a 16-year professional guard and Olympic gold medalist, she constantly worked on adding elements to her game. In her second year as the Liberty’s director of player development, her sharing of the techniques that she honed led to a breakout performance.
Sugar Rodgers, who has spent countless hours in the gym with Weatherspoon, followed her 19-point outing in the Liberty’s season-opening victory with a career-high 24 points Sunday in a 79-71 win over the Dallas Wings at Madison Square Garden.
“Spoon gets a tremendous amount of credit for getting her to this point,” coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Weatherspoon said Rodgers approached her the day she was hired, asking her questions about how to improve. Since then, the two often have been found together. Weatherspoon runs Rodgers through various drills. They simulate dozens of scenarios. Teammates have noticed because whenever they go to the gym they see Weatherspoon and her 5-9 protege, who averaged 8.1 points per game last year.
“She’s always in the gym,” said Tina Charles, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds for her 111th double-double in her 200th game. “If we have practice at 11, she’s in the gym at 9:30 working out with Teresa Weatherspoon. What you’re seeing is just hard work paying off.”
Rodgers needed the work to add dimensions to her game.
“She’s only known to be a three-point shooter,” Weatherspoon said. “We wanted to make her be able to put the ball on the floor, one- or two-dribble pull-ups, get to the rim, finish with power, handle the basketball to be able to get out of tight positions and to be able to get the shot off the dribble. She’s mixing it up.”
As the Liberty shoots to improve on last year’s Eastern Conference finals appearance, Rodgers’ sustained offensive prowess would be critical. “We need it,” Laimbeer said.
The Liberty are without Epiphanny Prince, who tore the ACL in her right knee in November after ranking second on the team with 15 points per game last year. But Rodgers said she cannot concern herself with replacing Prince.
“I’m just playing my game,” she said. “Epiphanny brings a lot to the table, but I can’t be ’Piph. I can only be me.”
Who “me” is, exactly, seems to be redefined every day.
Said Weatherspoon: “It’s not very much that I show her that she can’t pick up and get it done immediately.”