Liberty take Oregon’s Nyara Sabally No. 5 overall

Oregon’s Nyara Sabally, right, poses for a photo with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. (Adam Hunger/AP)

The Liberty reached back to a familiar place for its top draft pick Monday night

Oregon’s Nyara Sabally was selected No. 5 overall in the 2022 WNBA Draft by the team in seafoam green.

“It’s a surreal moment. It’s just something you look forward to your whole life,” Sabally, 22, said. “This city is amazing. The organization is amazing.”

Sabally, a 6-5 forward from Berlin, Germany, is a capable shooter and defender, who averaged 15.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 33 total blocked shots last season with Oregon. She played just 24 games of her exciting final season, missing eight games early in that campaign with a knee injury that occurred during a November 2021 meeting with Idaho State.

Her return was electric. Sabally finished sixth in the conference in scoring and third in rebounds, collected All-Pac-12 honors for a second year in a row and a Pac-12 All-Tournament Team. She also tied fellow Oregon legend, and Liberty franchise star, Sabrina Ionescu’s school tournament scoring record (31 points) for the Ducks in their 73-70 loss to Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in March. She also set the school’s record for blocks (seven) in tournament play.

But Sabally’s knee troubles were more than just last year. She had two torn ACLs, which kept her off the floor her freshman and sophomore years (2018-2020). That she was still being considered to play in Oregon’s 2020 NCAA Tournament campaign — which never happened since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports and canceled that year’s tournament — despite being fresh off recovery for her first ACL tear, speaks volumes to her capabilities on the floor.

Her injuries had to play some role in discussing her value to a Liberty team that finished 12-20 last year, but still made a playoff appearance. The Liberty have plans to repeat as playoff contenders and need bigs to help fortify their presence in the paint. They allowed an average 11.7 second chance points, 9.1 fast break points and 38.4 points in the paint (the worst in the league last season). The Liberty also had the lowest percentage of shots attempted from inside the arc (58.1%) and likewise made just 46.4% of those shots (last in the W).

Still, head coach Sandy Brondello and GM Jonathan Kolb must think Sabally’s knee troubles can at least be managed.

The Liberty made a trade during the draft, for the Seattle Storm’s No. 18 overall pick, Lorela Cubaj, a power forward from Georgia Tech, in exchange for a Liberty 2023 pick.

With the No. 29 pick (third round), the Liberty picked up another forward, Sika Kone from Mali.[More on the Liberty] Liberty hoping to add contributors in deep 2022 WNBA Draft class »

“We’re ecstatic to welcome Nyara, Lorela and Sika to the New York Liberty family,” Kolb said. “We feel Nyara is a top-end talent in this class. Her combination of size, speed, agility and touch is rare. We’re confident that once healthy, she will reach her incredibly high ceiling and have a real opportunity to develop into a cornerstone frontcourt player in the WNBA.”

“We had a great draft tonight,” Brondello said. “Our three selections were all players who we had actually discussed targeting within the first round. Nyara is obviously a post player with huge potential to compliment the great team that we have. Her skillset is something that we feel will only add to the pieces that we have here in New York.”

Sabally’s older sister, the Dallas Wings’ 2020 No. 2 overall pick, Satou Sabally, has already counseled her on the jump.

“Satou has given me a lot of advice,” the younger Sabally said, “just saying that I gotta be ready for the physicality and how fast-paced the game is. It’s a completely different level than in college.”

And if she can sustain her knees for the heavier workload that will be put on them upon making the fast transition into the WNBA (training camp starts next month), she could be another formidable backup to Stefanie Dolson, the Chicago champion who signed with the Liberty in February.

Sabally already knows she’s joining a roster that already has its leaders and veterans. She’s not just the youngest, but also has the least pre-WNBA experience despite playing on the German national team. But she knows what she does immediately offer: versatility. And that will be needed in her role off the bench in the near future.”I’m just looking to do whatever the team needs me to do. … I can really learn from (the veterans) and take everything in and that’s what I’m trying to do,” she said. She also briefly hinted at learning from Dolson, “I haven’t had the chance to speak to her, but I’ve only heard good things about her and I’m super excited to have such a role model in that position in front of me.”

She has gotten acquainted with Brondello and was excited the two spoke some German to each other – Brondello played in Germany and met her husband, new Liberty assistant Olaf Lange, in the country when he was an assistant coach there.

Sabally was briefly teammates with Ionescu, though the two never played together because of her injuries. When asked about her thoughts on the roster she joins, Ionescu was the first person she brought up.

“Thrilled that I get to share the court with her,” she said, adding later, “Sab is such an amazing point guard, such an amazing person. I saw her at practice everyday, I saw her working every day on the court.

“I’m just very excited to finally share the court with her. Not just in practice.”

Nyara had also wanted to play alongside Satou during their overlap in Oregon. That never happened, but she’ll now get a chance to play against her when the Liberty host the Wings on May 15.