NEWARK, N.J. — Just three practices into training camp, New York Liberty coach John Whisenant already likes what he's seen from his new team.
Enough for him to talk about winning the WNBA championship on Thursday.
"They showed me we have the makings, the ingredients to be a champion," said Whisenant, also the team's general manager. "That's my goal. That's Cappie's (Pondexter's) goal, that's Essence's (Carson's) goal, Nicole (Powell), all of our players all feel the same way."
There's optimism despite the third coach in three seasons and the start of a three-year stay at the Prudential Center while Madison Square Garden undergoes summer renovations.
Whisenant inherited a strong team that reached the Eastern Conference finals after finishing with a franchise-record 22 wins. New York's success came on the heels of a roster overhaul, led by the acquisition of Pondexter, which followed a 21-loss season — the team's second-worst — in 2009.
"We definitely need to pick up where we left off," Pondexter said. "We lost in the conference finals. It left a taste that wasn't really satisfying, so this summer we want to come out and bring great energy. Being here for the next three summers, it's our home, so we've got to come in and take ownership."
As the Liberty get adjusted to Whisenant's system, they will benefit from a delayed start to the season for the second time in three years. Usually, many players miss at least part of training camp while they finish up seasons overseas. Some arrive days or hours before WNBA teams play their openers. This time, players had time to return and rest before camp opened this week.
"It's a much more ideal situation to come back from overseas, to be able to go home, recharge your batteries in a way with family and friends and my home," Powell said. "And then to come back with a lot more energy coming into this training camp as opposed to last year I stepped off the plane and we had a game in two days."
Still, Whisenant doesn't expect the Liberty to be fully acclimated to his system by the season opener June 5 at Atlanta. He believes the adjustment will be a season-long process with the team improving along the way.
"It'll take the entire season to develop the cohesiveness, our defensive philosophy, the team playing to be a champion," he said. "As we go on each and every week we'll see improvement, and by the time we get to the end of August we'll be making the playoffs.
"And by the time we get to September we'll be in the playoffs, and by the time September's over we'll be playing for the championship."
Whisenant led the Sacramento Monarchs to the WNBA championship in 2005. He served as GM of the Monarchs for seven years and was coach from 2004-06 and parts of the '03 and '09 seasons. He was selected the 2005 league coach of the year.
He was hired in his dual roles with New York in October. He replaced coach Anne Donovan, who became coach at Seton Hall, and Carol Blazejowski in the front office.
"He's legendary," Pondexter said. "He's won a championship in the WNBA. Not many can say they have in the short span of the history of the league. He's definitely made his mark in Sacramento. He jumped on this job to make one thing happen, and that's to win a championship. I'm with him. I came here to do that, and I'm excited."
New York will have at least two new faces on the roster this year after veteran forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin signed with Minnesota in the offseason and second-year guard Kalana Greene was traded to Connecticut in a draft-day deal.
Third-year center Kia Vaughn could see increased playing time, and the Liberty also have rookie forward Jessica Breland (North Carolina) in camp. In the backcourt, New York has added rookies Sydney Colson (champion Texas A&M) and 6-foot-1 guard-forward Alex Montgomery (Georgia Tech), along with fourth-year forward Crystal Kelly.
"I'm very excited. I'm anxious to get started," Vaughn said. "I'm healthy, strong, mentally prepared. I just have to go out there and play and be myself."
The Liberty were officially welcomed to Newark during a news conference Thursday that included Mayor Cory Booker, New Jersey Devils owner and Prudential Center chairman and managing partner Jeff Vanderbeek and MSG Sports President Scott O'Neil.
Afterwards, Pondexter beat Booker 4-0 in a brief game of 1-on-1.
New York will host Washington in its preseason opener on Wednesday.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company