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After dismal WNBA season, Liberty players shine on international stage

During the WNBA season, they played for the 11th-place Liberty. But in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, they’re all ranked in the top five in the world.

Tina Charles led the 11th-place Liberty in scoring this season, but as a member of Team USA, she’s one of many big stars.
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The New York Liberty had a disappointing season, going 7-27 and capping off the summer with a 13-game losing streak. But as WNBA play ended and international play began, three players are forging their own paths as leaders on their international teams.

Of the four teams to automatically advance to Friday’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup quarterfinals out of the group stage, three of them — the United States, Canada and Australia — have a Liberty player on them. Each of them, even Kia Nurse, who just completed her rookie season, is a four-plus-year veteran of her respective national team. And each of them brings something special to the court when representing her country.

Let’s take a closer look at the New York Liberty in international play:

Tina Charles (No. 1 USA)

Tina Charles has long been the star of whatever team she’s on, leading Christ the King High School to a No. 1 ranking, winning two NCAA titles with the University of Connecticut and picking up numerous WNBA accolades, including Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and six All-Star selections.

It’s no surprise, then, that Charles was one of just a handful of USA players to have made her first national team while still in college, making her debut in 2009’s World University Games and the Ekaterinburg International Invitational. She’s a two-time veteran (and winner) of the FIBA World Cup and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and those are only some of her honors with USA Basketball.

This tournament, Charles is averaging 13.3 points per game on 60 percent shooting to go with 6 rebounds. While those numbers don’t come near what she was able to do for the Liberty this season (19.7 points and 7 rebounds per game), she’s the only player of this group whose FIBA stats aren’t quite up to her WNBA stats, but for good reason. With how many stars make up Team USA, she doesn’t need to be the star all the time — she can just as well be one of many instead.

Kia Nurse (No. 5 Canada)

Although she’s only been out of college a few months, Kia Nurse has been lighting it up for the Canadian senior national team since she was just 17 years old. While it’s difficult for an American player to make the U.S. national team in college due to the sheer number of American players in the NCAA, for teams like Canada, relying on standout college players is part of the deal. (This roster contains two more: Iowa State’s Bridget Carleton and Michigan State’s Shay Colley.)

Nurse made her international debut at the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship for Women, where she averaged 10 points per game en route to helping Canada earn the silver medal. One year later, she started at fellow Liberty teammate Charles’ alma mater, UConn, where she too was part of two national championship teams. With so much high-level experience under her belt at such a young age, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that Nurse finished her first WNBA season second on the team in scoring.

This tournament, Nurse has been one of the highlight players for any team, averaging 19.7 points per game (good for second behind Australia’s Liz Cambage) on 52.9 percent shooting. She put up a game-high 29 points against Korea, which is also good for the third-highest-scoring game of the tournament so far. If Canada continues on in this tournament, and Nurse continues what’s been a career individual showing for her country so far, she’s going to be a problem for whoever is unlucky enough to face Team Canada next.

Rebecca Allen (No. 4 Australia)

Just as it can be difficult to stand out on a team that contains Tina Charles, it has to be difficult to shine on a team with Liz Cambage leading the way. But Rebecca Allen — or Bec Allen, as she’s better known in Australia — is getting it done anyway.

Allen made her international senior team debut at the 2014 World Cup, where Australia finished third. Like many non-U.S. players, she didn’t attend college, opting instead to go straight from high school to Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League. She played for three WNBL teams and picked up the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year award before signing with the Liberty in 2015.

For the Liberty this season, Allen notched 3.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game while also finishing fourth on the team in blocks. But as a starter for Team Australia this tournament, Allen is averaging 9 points and 5 rebounds per game, good for third in scoring and second in rebounding on the team. Although Team Australia is certainly dominated by one player on the stat sheet, Allen’s contributions cannot be understated as the Opals eye another medal.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to whether the Liberty can be competitive once more in 2019. But if anything is certain, it’s that they’re not lacking talent or leadership. Maybe a 1-2-3 World Cup finish for the United States, Canada and Australia (in any order) could empower all three players to bring some of that shared confidence back to New York next season.