After years of rumors that three-time WNBA champion Cheryl Ford would sign with the New York Liberty, she is finally part of the team. It’s been four years since Ford, 31, known as one of the premier rebounders in women’s basketball, has played a WNBA game, but the opportunity to reunite with coach Bill Laimbeer proved irresistible.
“I told Bill I felt like I was starting my rookie season all over again. The first day of training camp, [I] was all nerves,” said Ford, who is playing alongside former Detroit Shock teammates Kara Braxton, Plenette Pierson and Katie Smith. The Liberty’s assistant coaches, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Barbara Farris, were also part of championship Shock teams.
“It means a lot because you already have that chemistry with those players and the coaches,” she continued. “Everybody knows what to expect from each individual. It’s a comfort zone.” Playing for any other WNBA coach beside Laimbeer just didn’t appeal to Ford, and she was content to play overseas. This past season, she played in Turkey. When Laimbeer decided to return to the league and asked her to play, she didn’t second-guess it.
“It felt right,” Ford said.
While Ford is enjoying the familiarity of former teammates, she’s also embracing new faces. She appreciates questions from the rookies and their willingness to learn, and is also looking forward to playing with All WNBA First Team guard Cappie Pondexter. “We’re going to feed off of her and her energy,” Ford said. Off the court, she’s eager to get Pondexter’s insight into fashion too.
“I think I’m still a strong player down in the post,” said Ford, who has worked on her shooting and free throws. “Rebounding is a given. That’s in me.”
One of the team’s rookies, Shenneika Smith, is trying to make history as the first player from St. John’s to make a WNBA roster. She described her pro debut in the preseason game, which was attended by friends and family, as “fabulous.”
“I was so excited to play in my first professional basketball game,” said Smith, 23. “It’s phenomenal, being one of the first two to be drafted [the other is Nadirah McKenith] from the school. I’m excited to be in this new system. Being from Brooklyn, what better way to begin my professional career than to play for the New York Liberty?”