A new tell-all about the circumstances surrounding Brittney Griner’s detainment and arrest in Russia was released by ESPN on Friday, with Courtney Vandersloot revealing new details about the circumstances surrounding her teammate’s arrest and the immediate aftermath.

Griner declined to be interviewed in the article, although ESPN’s TJ Quinn spoke with a number of people close to the Phoenix Mercury star, including Vandersloot.

Following Griner’s arrest on Feb. 17, Griner’s Ekaterinburg teammates reported for practice on the 18th. Griner was absent, which wasn’t odd at first.

“It wouldn’t have been the first time that someone came late,” Vandersloot, who was Griner’s teammate in Russia for four seasons, told ESPN. “We all talked about it like, ‘OK, BG’s not here. We’ll see her tomorrow or the next day.'”

Both Vandersloot and her teammates said they were aware of rising tensions between the US and Russia, but felt safe returning to play in Russia because of the relationship between team owners and the Kremlin.

“We’re all hearing it because we’re reading American news and Western news in general, that Europeans are just as concerned, but whenever we brought it up to Russians, it was like, ‘Oh, this is normal. They’re always threatening this. You don’t understand, we’ve been living like this for 10 years,'” Vandersloot said. “It’s constantly, ‘We’re about to go to war.’ They were always downplaying it.”

Griner’s initial absence from practice wasn’t cause for alarm. Jonquel Jones, Griner’s closest friend on the team, didn’t know what was happening, but did tell teammates that Griner wasn’t responding to her. Vandersloot, as well as her wife and teammate Allie Quigley, was convinced that something was going on when it became clear that Griner wasn’t responding to any of her teammate’s texts.

“Allie asked [Griner’s] translator, ‘Where is BG?’ And she was really uncomfortable,” Vandersloot said. “You just knew something was up and she was just kind of trying to play it off.”

Five days later, on Feb. 23, the team was informed of Griner’s arrest by general manager Maxim Rybakov.

“He started the meeting with, like, ‘We have some serious issues to discuss.’ So we knew it was big and it probably had to do with BG,” Vandersloot said. “His face — he looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

“He said, ‘We wanted you guys to all know that she’s been arrested for drugs.’ I feel like he even said, ‘a big amount of drugs.’ It was like a punch to the stomach. We all were like, we could throw up at any time as soon as we heard. I was like, no. No way. There has to be a mistake.”

Vandersloot said she was “so worried” about Griner being in jail, and couldn’t explain the feelings she was having. The team also had to go out and play a game right after being told.

“I can’t even explain the feeling I had in my stomach after that because I was so worried about BG being in jail,” she said. “I couldn’t even grasp that — how scared she must be, how lonely she must be. Those were the conversations we were having — I can’t believe that she’s in there. Now we have to go freaking play a game? You think we care about this game? All we’re worried about was our teammate, our friend. I remember not paying attention to the damn game at all.”

The assumption was that Griner would be released soon, that she “was a phone call away from being released.” Griner was especially popular in Russia. One teammate, Yevgenia Belyakova, noted that “everyone loves her.”

Of course, the reality was much different. It took almost a year for Griner to be released from Russian detainment.

Players on the team were told Griner was arrested for a “big amount of drugs.” But when Griner’s American teammates found out the true amount – which was no more than two vape cartridges – it was a relief.

Still, there was tension between the Russians and the Americans on the team, who didn’t understand how big of a deal drug possession was in the country.

“We were fighting against each other. I’m Russian, and I tried to explain why she really broke rules in Russia, why it is so difficult to do this,” Belyakova said. “I tried to explain to them how it works in Russia. It was me against everybody.”

“It wasn’t just her — it was all the other Russians, even the translator,” Vandersloot said. “It was almost like they were saying, ‘These are the rules,’ and we were like, ‘We don’t give a damn what the rules were.'”

Team owners also couldn’t do anything, because of the quantity of drugs.

“I remember them emphasizing this to us: ‘There’s nothing we can do because of the amount.’ I was like, I don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Vandersloot said. “Then I heard how much [the amount was] on the news. I was like, ‘Wow, this is what they were talking about? What a big amount is?’ I kind of lost confidence in their ability to impact this.”

On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. Players were then advised to leave the country. One by one, foreign players opted to leave. Vandersloot said that it was hard knowing that they were leaving Griner behind.

“Do you know how s—ty that feels? How hard it is that we’re leaving, but we’re leaving something so important to us behind?” Vandersloot said. “It was so early we thought we were going to get out and then she’d be right behind us. We knew BG would want us to get out and be safe; that was definitely a discussion. But how do we just take off and go?”

Read the full ESPN report here, on the one-year anniversary of Griner’s release.

The makings of the New York Liberty’s first WNBA Finals run since 2002 started in the offseason, when the team assembled what many have called a superteam.

Just few days after the 2022 season ended, general manager Jonathan Kolb already was making plans, and in his mind were three players to chase in the offseason: Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot.

One by one, the dominoes fell. First came Jones, as the 2021 WNBA MVP was acquired via trade from the Connecticut Sun in January.

The signing of Stewart came afterward, but the seeds of the deal dated back to the previous offseason. Stewart met with the Liberty ahead of the 2022 season, but she did not want to leave retiring star Sue Bird in her final season with the Seattle Storm. One year later, though, all bets were off.

Kolb flew with other Liberty executives to Istanbul, where Stewart was playing in the offseason, to make their case. From that point on, there wasn’t anywhere else for the league MVP. On Jan. 31, she informed the Liberty of her plans to sign with them, and she did so the following day, the first day that free agents could sign contracts.

One day after that, Courtney Vandersloot joined the party. While she came close to signing with the Minnesota Lynx, another phone conversation with Kolb and Brondello the day before her signing changed her mind.

“When we put this team together, obviously the goal was to bring in the talent and let’s make a run for this,” head coach Sandy Brondello said Sunday. “And we certainly did that. Jonathan did a great job, and these players believed in the vision that we laid out to them to try and convince them to come to New York.”

While Kolb and Brondello brought the pieces together, the players themselves needed to find their rhythm. They started the season out of sync at times, but they found their groove, and they are sailing into the WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces.

“I only spoke about championships [on] day one, and then it was over. Because you have to do a lot of hard work,” Brondello said. “It was a journey. I think early on people think you just snap your fingers and it’s gonna work. But it takes time. We got five new players trying to learn to play with each other. … We faced some adversity still but we had built up so much connection and commitment that we could overcome those.”

Alyssa Thomas is leading the triple-double revolution.

Triple-doubles were a rare occurrence through most of WNBA history. Then came the year of the triple-double, with nine recorded during the 2022 season. And the pace has not slowed in 2023, with 11 as of Oct. 1.

Give credit to Thomas for the explosion. The Connecticut Sun forward recorded the first of her career on July 22, 2022, but finished that season with four — breaking the WNBA career record. And on Oct. 1, she recorded her seventh of 2023.

Thomas is the only WNBA player with more than two triple-doubles in a single season.

“Even myself as a coach, you have to intentionally tell yourself to not take these moments for granted,” Sun head coach Stephanie White said. “Like it just seems so routine that Alyssa Thomas gets a triple-double or close to a triple-double or a double-double. … It’s not routine, it’s exceptional.”

Five other players have recorded multiple triple-doubles: Candace Parker (3), Sabrina Ionescu (3), Sheryl Swoopes (2), Courtney Vandersloot (2) and Chelsea Gray (2).

“I think the game is changing,” Parker said following her third career triple-double in June 2022. “I think we’re gonna very soon see this on a nightly basis. We’re going to see those playmakers who have the ball in their hands.”

How many triple-doubles have been recorded in WNBA history?

In total, 31 triple-doubles have been recorded across the league’s 27 seasons, with 26 during the regular season and five during the playoffs. The 31 triple-doubles have come from 14 total players.

Swoopes recorded the first playoff triple-double in 2005, while Vandersloot did so in 2021. Thomas joined the club with two in the 2022 WNBA Finals, and then added another in the 2023 semifinals.

Sheryl Swoopes (2)

Swoopes recorded the league’s first-ever triple-double on July 27, 1999, while playing for the Houston Comets. She recorded 14 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. She would later get her second triple-double on September 3, 2005, with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Margo Dydek

While with the Utah Starzz, Dydek had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks on June 7, 2001. Dydek remains the only WNBA player to have recorded a triple-double through blocks and not assists.

Lisa Leslie

Leslie set a new bar on September 9, 2004, recording 29 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocks for the Los Angeles Sparks. That stood as the record for most points in a triple-double until Ionescu broke it in 2022.

Deanna Nolan

On May 21, 2005, Nolan recorded the first of two triple-doubles that year. That 2005 season became the first with multiple triple-doubles. She had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for the Detroit Shock.

Temeka Johnson

As a member of the Seattle Storm, Johnson recorded 13 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists on July 24, 2014.

Candace Parker (3)

It took nine seasons for Parker to record her first triple-double. On July 28, 2017, she had 11 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists for the Los Angeles Sparks.

Her other two came with the Chicago Sky in 2022, with Parker recording the first triple-double of the year on May 22, with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. While she became the oldest player to record a triple-double in WNBA history in that game, she later became the first player to record three triple-doubles in league history with another on June 23 (10 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists).

Courtney Vandersloot (2)

Vandersloot recorded the first of her two triple-doubles on July 20, 2018, with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists. She registered her second triple-double during the 2021 postseason, notching 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Chelsea Gray (2)

As a member of the Los Angeles Sparks, Gray recorded a triple-double on July 7, 2019. She had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

In 2023, she notched the second of her career with the Aces in a rivalry win over the Liberty. She finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Sabrina Ionescu (3)

Ionescu’s first triple-double came on May 18, 2021, when she recorded 26 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists — the highest point total since Leslie’s triple-double in 2004.

She bested that number with a 27-point, 13-rebound and 12-assist performance on June 12, 2022. Then, against the Aces on July 7, Ionescu set the record for points in a triple-double with 31 — the first 30-plus-point triple-double. She added 13 rebounds and 10 assists in that game.

Moriah Jefferson

Jefferson added her name to the list on June 28, 2022, with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the first triple-double in Minnesota Lynx history.

Courtney Williams

On June 30, 2023, Williams contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for the Chicago Sky in a win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

Satou Sabally

The Dallas Wings’ Satou Sabally recorded her first triple-double on July 28, 2023, putting up 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the Dallas Wings’ win over the Washington Mystics.

She is the second player in Wings history to achieve a triple-double, joining Deanna Nolan. Nolan had one in 2005 when the franchise was in Detroit.

Sug Sutton

The final pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft at No. 36 overall, Sutton has bounced around the league over the last four seasons, but she inked her name in the history books with her first triple-double on Sept. 8, 2023. The 24-year-old guard had 18 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for the Phoenix Mercury in a 94-73 loss to the Las Vegas Aces.

Alyssa Thomas (11)

Thomas recorded the first triple-double of her career and the first in Connecticut Sun history on July 22, 2022. The star forward tallied 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Less than two weeks later, on Aug. 2, 2022, Thomas posted 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to become just the third player in WNBA history to record multiple triple-doubles in a single season — joining Parker and Ionescu, who also did so in 2022.

She added yet another — and the first in WNBA Finals history — on Sept. 15, with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists in a Game 3 win against the Las Vegas Aces. Then she followed it up with still another in the team’s series-clinching loss to Las Vegas, notching 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to become the first WNBA player to post back-to-back triple-doubles.

On June 20, 2023, Thomas posted her fifth career triple-double, with 13 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. Her sixth came just five days later on June 25, in a 14-point, 11-rebound and 12-assist performance. Then, just two days after that, Thomas recorded her third triple-double in eight days, with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Her eighth came on July 30, 2023, with Thomas putting up 17 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. And her ninth came on Aug. 1, with 21 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists.

Thomas kept it rolling, with her 10th coming on Sept. 5, 2023. She recorded 27 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds, as well as 6 steals. She’s the first player in WNBA history with 25 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 5 steals in a game.

“I’m doing something that’s never been done in the league before,” Thomas said following that performance. “And I’m making it look easy. And by no means are triple-doubles easy. Credit goes to my teammates.”

In the 2023 playoffs, she posted the 11th triple-double of her career in the WNBA semifinals, with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists.

The WNBA All-Star teams are set, but the lineup for the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest are still up in the air.​​ Friday’s competition serves as a precursor to the main event on All-Star weekend, with six players participating in the 3-Point Contest and eight in the Skills Challenge (if the WNBA sticks with the same format as last year).

With the entire league to choose from, here is my wish list for the players I’d like to see compete this weekend in Las Vegas.

3-Point Contest

Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces

After struggling in last year’s 3-point contest on All-Star weekend, Kelsey Plum deserves a shot at redemption. Despite being an excellent 3-point shooter who averages 43.2% for her career, she was last in the competition in 2022. Teammate A’ja Wilson even said Plum “stunk it up.” The Vegas guard followed that performance up by winning 2022 All-Star Game MVP, but a good showing in this year’s 3-point competition would further erase last year’s struggles. Plum said she’s “not a rack shooter and more of a game shooter,” but why not both?

Lexie Brown, G, Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks guard was considered a snub in last year’s 3-point contest after shooting 39.8% on the season, thanks to a hot hand in the first half. This year, Brown is even better from beyond the arc, shooting 42% and making 2.3 attempts per contest. An illness has kept Brown off the court since June 14, but if she’s healthy, the guard is a no-brainer addition to this year’s competition.

Karlie Samuelson, G, Los Angeles Sparks

Why not have a little intra-team competition? Brown’s teammate, Karlie Samuelson, would be a perfect candidate. She’s spent the last few seasons fighting for a WNBA roster spot and has found a home this year with the Sparks, shooting an incredible 48.2% from beyond the arc. Samuelson is currently injured, but if healthy enough, she deserves this honor.

DeWanna Bonner, F/G, Connecticut Sun

At 35 years old, Bonner is having the best 3-point shooting season of her WNBA career, averaging 38.2% with 2.2 makes per game. Bonner spent her offseason practicing twice a day to rehab an injury and improve her long-range shooting. Bonner’s desire to find ways to get better after 14 years in the league makes her special, and bringing her into the 3-point contest would be a great way to celebrate the veteran’s season.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, New York Liberty

Another player who is having the best 3-point shooting performance of her career, Ionescu is making 43.9% of her attempts this season, marking a 10% improvement on her average last season. She’s making 3.1 3-pointers per contest, good for second in the WNBA. Ionescu is the reigning Skills Challenge champion, so why not give her a chance to win the shooting portion as well?

Jackie Young, G, Las Vegas Aces

Another intra-squad rivalry would be on display if Young competed alongside Plum, and with the competition being held in Vegas this year, two Aces players would make for an exciting atmosphere. Not to mention, Young has had one of the best career arcs when it comes to 3-point shooting, shooting 25% in 2021 and 43.1% in 2022. This year, she’s an absolute must-guard shooter from beyond the arc, making 48.1% of her attempts.

If this is Candace Parker's last season, an appearance in the Skills Challenge would be fitting. (Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images)

Skills Challenge

NaLyssa Smith, F, Indiana Fever

The Fever forward participated in last year’s Skills Challenge as a rookie and finished in second place. Smith is having a great second-year campaign in Indiana, leading the team in rebounds per game and ranking second in points per game. Could a skills competition redemption be in her future? It’s certainly a possibility.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, New York Liberty

Speaking of last year’s contest, Ionescu took home the top prize and deserves a chance to defend her title. Having the Liberty guard compete in all three of the weekend’s events is a lot, but she certainly has a case to make the trio of appearances.

Rhyne Howard, G, Atlanta Dream

When it comes to All-Star snubs, no one was more deserving than Howard, who participated in the game last season as a rookie. She’s averaging 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, building on her Rookie of the Year season in 2022. Since we won’t get to see Howard in the All-Star Game, she should at least make an appearance in the Skills Challenge.

Candace Parker, F/C, Las Vegas Aces

This is perhaps the biggest reach on the wish list, but who better to participate in the Skills Challenge than a do-it-all player like Parker? She’s made it clear that she’s nearing the end of her career, so if 2023 is Parker’s last season, it would be a shame for her to go without seeing her compete in some capacity this weekend.

Marine Johannès, G, New York Liberty

Is it really a skills competition without the flashiest player in the WNBA? The French guard does a little bit of everything, and she does it all with style. Johannès is sure to get “oohs and “aahs” every time she steps on the court, making this event the perfect showcase for an exciting player like her.

Courtney Vandersloot, G, New York Liberty

If we are going to have two Liberty guards, why not make it three by adding in the WNBA assists leader? Vandersloot runs the Liberty offense with ease, dishing out 8.5 assists per game. The WNBA veteran certainly has the skills to win this competition, and maybe Allie Quigley would even make an appearance to cheer on her wife. It only seems fair after years of Vandersloot’s support for the queen of the 3-Point Contest.

Satou Sabally, F, Dallas Wings

Other than Smith and Parker, this list is guard-heavy. Enter Sabally, who is the perfect forward for the skills competition. She’s 6-4, but plays more like a guard who shines in the fastbreak and leads the Wings on the run. That makes her a competitive candidate for this event. Plus, Sabally is having the best season of her career, averaging 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Jewell Loyd, G, Seattle Storm

Things are much different for the 4-14 Storm this season, but Jewell Loyd’s talent remains the same. She could easily participate in the 3-Point Contest, averaging 38.8% from beyond the arc and leading the league in 3-pointers made with 3.4 per game. But I’d rather see Loyd show off her complete skill set, like she’s been doing for Seattle all season.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Alyssa Thomas, Elena Delle Donne and Napheesa Collier headline the 12 reserves who will compete at the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game. The reserves were announced on Saturday following a vote by WNBA head coaches. They will join the 10 All-Star starters — voted on by fans, media, and players — who were revealed last week.

2023 WNBA All-Star Game Reserves

  • DeWanna Bonner (Connecticut Sun)
  • Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx)
  • Kahleah Copper (Chicago Sky)
  • Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)
  • Allisha Gray (Atlanta Dream)
  • Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty)
  • Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm)
  • Kelsey Mitchell (Indiana Fever)
  • Cheyenne Parker (Atlanta Dream)
  • Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)
  • Alyssa Thomas (Connecticut Sun)
  • Courtney Vandersloot (New York Liberty)

Five players will make their All-Star debut in 2023: Gray, Magbegor, Mitchell and Parker, plus starter Aliyah Boston.

Sabrina Ionescu will make her second All-Star appearance thanks to the coach vote after she was ranked 19th amongst guards by her fellow players.

Of the reserves, Elena Delle Donne boasts the most All-Star Selections (nine), while Brittney Griner leads all All-Stars with nine.

While much fan and media attention is spent on comparing starters vs. reserves, that division becomes much less important once the All-Star game tips off. Both starters and reserves earn the “All-Star” label, playing time is typically divided more evenly than regular games, and there’s nothing to keep a reserve from being named All-Star MVP. Erica Wheeler (2019) was the most recent reserve to accomplish the feat.

All-Star captains A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart will draft their teams during a special WNBA All-Star selection show on Saturday, July 8 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). The WNBA All-Star Game will be played at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 15, with the game airing on ABC (5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET).

Also on Saturday, the WNBA confirmed that Las Vegas head coach Becky Hammon (14-1) and Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White (12-4) will serve as All-Star head coaches thanks to their records through June 30. Hammon will coach Team Wilson, while White will coach Team Stewart.

Editor’s note: This story was first published in the first week of the 2023 WNBA season. The Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty will face off for the first time this season at 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

The Superteam Era of the WNBA officially has begun.

Fans have gotten their first glimpses of the new-look New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces squads. And while 10 other teams – like the Washington Mystics, who topped the Liberty 80-64 to open the season – have four months to make their cases, it’s easy to see why New York and Las Vegas are the favorites to battle it out for the WNBA title.

Here’s how they stack up.

Starting Five

Las Vegas Aces

Candace Parker, F, 6-4: The 37-year-old forward is looking to be the first WNBA player to win championships with three franchises after signing with the Aces as a free agent. She already has rings with the Sparks and the Sky in 2016 and 2021. Parker, who has been candid about being near the end of her professional career, is a two-time WNBA MVP and seven-time all-WNBA first team member. Over her 15-year career, Parker has maintained a reputation as a player who does everything. Last season she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block.

A’ja Wilson, F, 6-4: Five seasons into her career and A’ja Wilson has already won two MVP awards. The South Carolina product has been dominant since her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, but the 2022 season was her best yet. Wilson led the Aces to their first WNBA title, averaging 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Chelsea Gray, G, 5-11: After being snubbed for the All-Star game last year, Gray’s second half of the season became a revenge tour. Her play earned the point guard the Finals MVP trophy, as Gray averaged 21.7 points and 7.0 assists per game through the postseason while shooting 61.1% from the field and 54.4% from beyond the arc. Gray showed off her skills as a playmaker for others, and a shot-creator for herself, making over 60% of her contested looks.

Kelsey Plum, G, 5-8: Plum has gotten better every season since she was drafted No. 1 in 2017, and in 2022 she took a major step forward. The guard finished second in the WNBA in scoring with 20.2 points per game while also averaging a career-high 5.1 assists. After coming off the bench in 2021, coach Becky Hammon moved Plum back to a starting role and heavily relied on the guard throughout the season. She played 32.8 minutes per game, which ranked second in the league.

Jackie Young, G, 6-0: Young started the 2023 season on a high note, scoring 23 points in 26 minutes during the Ace’s first game of the season. Young is looking to build on a 2022 season that saw her named the league’s Most Improved Player. That’s largely because of the addition of a 3-point shot to her game. Young shot 25% in 2021 and 23.1% in 2020, but after dedicating herself to the craft, she shot 43.1% from long range in 2022. Young’s ability to shoot 3s adds another weapon to the Aces’ arsenal.

New York Liberty

Betnijah Laney, F, 6-0: Laney has been in the league since 2015 but had a breakout season in 2020 for Atlanta. She’s been a key piece for the Liberty since 2021, and while she missed most of last season with an injury, she’s back in top form and could end up being the unsung hero of this superteam. With big names around her, Laney likely won’t receive the same type of attention, but she will be impactful. The 29-year-old averaged 16.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 2021. She also brings toughness, a scorer’s mentality and established chemistry with Ionescu.

Breanna Stewart, F, 6-4: The offseason’s most sought-after free agent landed with the Liberty after playing six seasons with the Storm. Stewart wasted no time establishing herself, setting a franchise record with 45 points in New York’s home opener. She already has won two WNBA titles and was named Finals MVP in both instances. When she signed with the Liberty, the UConn product instantly catapulted the team to the top of the WNBA.

Jonquel Jones, F, 6-6: When Jones was traded to the Liberty back in January, the move set off the superteam era. The opportunity to play with the 2021 MVP enticed Stewart and Vandersloot to sign with the Liberty, and it likely motivated Parker to sign with the Aces in order to give her a chance at a title as well. Jones is a versatile scoring threat who plays both inside and beyond the arc. In her last season in Connecticut, Jones led the Sun to the WNBA Finals and averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.

Courtney Vandersloot, G, 5-8: The one thing the Liberty needed after signing Jones and Stewart was an elite, pass-first point guard. They got that in Vandersloot, who is third on the WNBA’s all-time assists leaderboard and holds the record for most assists in a single game with 18. Vandersloot played all 12 of her WNBA seasons with the Sky and won a title with Chicago in 2021 before joining the Liberty.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, 5-11: The 2020 No. 1 pick transitioned seamlessly into the league, but last season was telling for the star guard. She plays best off the ball, which is why Vandersloot was such a key addition. Ionescu averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 2022, while also posting her lowest turnover mark yet at 3 per contest. Known as the triple-double queen in college, she continues to do a little bit of everything in the WNBA.

Bench Players

Las Vegas Aces

Key players: Alysha Clark, Kiah Stokes, Riquna Williams

The one knock on the Aces last season was their lack of bench. It didn’t end up mattering, as the team secured a title, and Riquna Williams ended up playing big minutes in the Finals, but Becky Hammon & Co. still bolstered the bench unit in the offseason. They added an elite defender in 10-year WNBA veteran Alysha Clark. The Aces also retained Kiah Stokes, who brings rebounding and rim protection.

New York Liberty

Key Players: Marine Johannès, Kayla Thornton, Stephanie Dolson, Han Xu

Everyone off the bench for the Liberty brings something different to the court, which is what you want from secondary players. Johannès could easily be a starter for another team, and she’s an elite passer and crafty shot-creator. Thornton is an experienced vet who played six seasons mostly in a starting role for the Wings, and Dolson brings experience as well with nine WNBA seasons under her belt. Han Xu is a question mark for the Liberty, as she hasn’t seen much time in their first two games, but her size (6-10) and unique skill set (which includes 3-point shooting) make her a threat off the bench.

Head Coach

Las Vegas Aces

Becky Hammon set the bar high in her first season with the Aces, leading them to the franchise’s first WNBA title. She’s an experienced coach who spent years as an assistant for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs before taking the Aces job. Hammon also played 15 years in the WNBA and was a 6-time all star. The signing of Candace Parker put the Aces in position to compete for the title again, but it didn’t come without controversy. The Aces traded Dearica Hamby to the Sparks in order to make space for Parker, but a WNBA investigation found that Hamby was mistreated during the trade due to her pregnancy. Hammon denied the claims, but she was suspended for the first two games of the season.

New York Liberty

Sandy Brondello, like Hammon, has experience playing in the WNBA as well as coaching. She played professionally from 1992-2004, and she also represented the Australian National team, winning two silver medals in the Olympics. She got into coaching in 2005 as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars, the franchise that became the Las Vegas Aces. Brondello made her name as a coach with the Mercury, coaching in Phoenix from 2014-2021 and winning a WNBA championship in 2014 before taking the Liberty job in 2022.

Team History

Las Vegas Aces

The Aces joined the WNBA in 1997 first as the Utah Starzz, then became the San Antonio Silver Stars (later just the Stars) before moving to Las Vegas in 2018. The franchise had one conference title in 2008, and then the Aces secured the first title last season.

New York Liberty

The Liberty joined the WNBA in 1997 as well but have stayed put in the New York City area (if not always in their current home borough of Brooklyn). The team has won three conference titles, in 1999, 2000 and 2002, but has yet to win a WNBA title.

In her first game back at Climate Pledge Arena since leaving the Seattle Storm for the New York Liberty, Breanna Stewart dealt with a deluge of emotions.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster of a day for me,” Stewart said after the game, earning her a supportive pat on the back from Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello.

Competing with a black eye she picked up over the weekend, Stewart struggled in the first half of Tuesday night’s game, scoring eight points.

“In the first half, I was just floating. I don’t think I was really doing anything,” she said.

The two-time WNBA Finals MVP gave herself a halftime pep talk to help turn things around: “I was like, ‘C’mon, let’s get my s— together.”

Stewart went on to record 25 points and 11 rebounds in New York’s 86-78 win, handing her old team its third straight loss to start the season.

In doing so, Stewart became just the second WNBA player to record at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in a first game against a former team, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The other WNBA player to achieve the feat was Chamique Holdsclaw, who scored 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Los Angeles Sparks against the Washington Mystics in 2005.

Sabrina Ionescu added 20 points in the win, while Courtney Vandersloot contributed 11 assists.

For the Storm, Jewell Loyd recorded 26 points, while Ezi Magbegor added 12 and recorded a career-high 14 rebounds.

“So weird to play against Jewell. We really haven’t done it since college,” Stewart said of her former WNBA teammate. “We still had the competitors in us, but also very light-hearted. Like, at one point, I slapped her in the face, and it was like, you know, we were in practice. I wish her and Ezi and (Mercedes Russell) the rest of them nothing but success.”

Earlier this month, Stewart made some Storm fans a little salty when she told a packed crowd at Barclays Center that she “made the right decision” in choosing the Liberty. But the former Storm star received a warm welcome at Climate Pledge Arena. After the game, she also got a hug from retired teammate Sue Bird, who had a front row seat to Tuesday night’s game.

Stewart isn’t the only player on the Liberty facing down a former team this week. On Saturday, New York defeated Jonquel Jones’ old team, the Connecticut Sun. On Friday, New York will tip off against the Chicago Sky, Vandersloot’s former team.

“We were joking in the locker room about it being a revenge tour,” Ionescu said.

Natasha Cloud knows some people haven’t yet woken up to what’s possible for the Washington Mystics this year.

“Y’all can keep sleeping (on us),” the five-foot-nine guard said after the Mystics defeated the New York Liberty, 80-64, to open the 2023 WNBA season.

“We’re confident in what we have in this locker room and you can continue to talk about the super hero teams. But we know who we are and we know what we bring every single night.”

While the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces made huge offseason moves, the Mystics’ path to the start of the WNBA season was more subtle. Elena Delle Donne, who has dealt with a back injury for three straight seasons, says she is as strong as she’s ever been. And she looked it on Friday night, recording 13 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals against the Liberty. Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Kristi Toliver also added double-digit points.

While Liberty fans might have been surprised by the result, Delle Donne wasn’t.

“It’s what we’ve been doing in training camp. And we don’t care about the outside noise,” the two-time WNBA MVP said. “We don’t care about the storylines. It’s not going to change how we show up every single day, take care of one another and get the work we need to get done each day.”

As for the New York “super hero” team?

“This was a huge lesson for us,” Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot said.

“We can learn a lot from this,” echoed Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “The team with the most chemistry certainly won tonight. We were not very good, and they were very good.”

Chicago Sky center Astou Ndour-Fall opted out of the 2023 WNBA season due to her overseas commitments, becoming one of the first dominoes to fall in the wake of the controversial new rule.

The prioritization rule requires WNBA players to return from overseas play by the time the league opens its season on May 19. Players who fail to do so will be ineligible to play in 2023, and Ndour-Fall will be one of them. Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams could be another.

How does the prioritization rule work? And how did it come to be? Just Women’s Sports breaks down the answers.

How does the prioritization rule work?

The rule requires players to prioritize the WNBA over international leagues. It was codified in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement but goes into effect for the first time for the 2023 season.

Players with more than two years of experience in the WNBA must report to their teams by May 1. If they do not, they will be fined. And if they miss the start of the regular season on May 19, they will be suspended for the year.

In 2024, the consequences will get even harsher: Players will be suspended for the whole season if they do not join their WNBA teams by May 1 or the start of training camp, whichever is later.

What’s the problem?

Many WNBA players head overseas in the offseason to supplement their WNBA incomes. Last offseason, almost half of the WNBA’s 144 players went overseas, per the Associated Press.

Players can make much more money abroad then they do in the U.S.-based league.

Breanna Stewart, for example, signed a supermax one-year deal with the Seattle Storm in 2022. The deal was worth $228,094, just a fraction of the $1.5 million per year she made for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg. Though she left the Russian club for Fenerbahce in 2022, she likely earned another large payday.

The WNBA holds its season in the summer, while international leagues play in the winter, which has allowed players to stay on the court throughout the year. But some international leagues’ late-season schedules have conflicted with the start of the WNBA season in recent years.

How did it come to be?

The prioritization rule was negotiated as part of the WNBA’s latest CBA, which was signed in 2020 and runs through 2027.

“The owners really stepped up on the compensation side for the players in this collective bargaining cycle, and I think the kind of quid pro quo for that was prioritization, showing up on time for our season,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said ahead of the 2022 WNBA Finals.

The WNBA Players Association agreed to the clause as a concession to the league so they could make gains in other areas of the CBA.

“The league was in a place of not negotiating without it,” WNBA legend Sue Bird said of prioritization. “We wouldn’t have got the money, the maternity leave, without it. I’m not defending it… I want the WNBA to be the only league people play in. I want it to thrive so we never have to go overseas.”

What’s next?

Several players have indicated that as long as salaries in international leagues eclipse those in the WNBA, the prioritization clause will remain an issue.

Emma Meesseman, who has not signed with a WNBA team for the 2023 season, has said the rule is unfair to non-American players.

The New York Liberty’s new-look roster is off to a rough start, with a few of its stars limited in training camp due to injuries.

Both Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones are not at full capacity as New York embarks on its superteam era. Vandersloot took a hit to the face during Monday’s workouts, Winsidr’s Myles Ehlrich reported, and the Liberty shut her down for the day out of caution.

On Tuesday, the Liberty announced that the guard has been placed in concussion protocol.

Additionally, Jones told reporters Monday that she is playing limited minutes, as she sustained an injury “like a stress reaction” in her left foot during the WNBA Finals last year. The 2021 WNBA MVP was in a boot “for a little while,” she said, and Sunday’s opening to training camp was “really like my first time going up and down the court.”

“I’m still restricted on it right now,” she said. “But every day, I’m building on it, adding more time.”

Jones was traded to the Liberty from the Sun in the offseason, generating buzz around what the team would look like. The buzz only increased when Vandersloot and two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart signed with the team. 

Still, Jones does appear to be working out with the team, even if in a limited capacity. For Liberty fans, injuries are unfortunately familiar territory. Last season, the team didn’t play in a single preseason game, as it did not have enough healthy players on the roster.