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Tanisha Wright right at home playing for Liberty

After 10 seasons in Seattle, defensive specialist Tanisha Wright is averaging 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds for the Liberty. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

New York guard Tanisha Wright has always been like that ingredient that doesn't stand out, yet without which the recipe just isn't nearly as good.

Go back even to her Penn State days, and it was like that. Then through her 10 WNBA seasons in Seattle, it was often easy -- at least from the outsiders' point of view -- to take her for granted.

Now that she's in New York, it's once again possible to overlook Wright when you're singling out the reasons why the Liberty -- despite a loss to Chicago on Thursday -- lead the Eastern Conference and will make their first playoff appearance since 2012.

But if this sounds like the cliché story about an unappreciated player, we'll try not to make it so. Wright really isn't looking for a pat on the back. She doesn't need it, because she's content knowing the impact she's making for the Liberty.

"I'm excited to be a part of this team," Wright said. "All my teammates are amazing, so to have this type of success, I feel like we're getting this franchise back where it's supposed to be. It's fun."

Wright was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent her early childhood there, and she remained a Knicks fan even after moving to Pennsylvania to live with her grandmother. She has that lifelong reverence for Madison Square Garden, saying that even as a kid she thought of it in magical terms, somewhat like "going to the best amusement park in the world."

In the Liberty's early days, the atmosphere at the Garden for their games was among the most electric -- perhaps even the most -- in the WNBA. Coming close a few times but not winning a title eventually took a toll on the Liberty and their fans.

"Partnering up with Bill [Laimbeer] has helped push the whole defensive mindset even further for this team. ... From the beginning, I really felt like they wanted me here in New York." Tanisha Wright

So did some questionable trades, other front-office missteps, and a three-season move to Newark, New Jersey, while the Garden was being renovated.

In 2015, the Liberty faithful have had to deal with the odd (although it was the right move) rehiring of coach Bill Laimbeer just months after he'd been let go, and the Isiah Thomas-as-team-president circus.

Considering all that, the season thus far has been a deserved reward for fans who've put up with a lot. At 21-9, the Liberty own the league's best record heading into the weekend.

Wright admits that when she signed in February as a free agent, she had no big expectations about how the Liberty would do this season. But after 10 years in the Pacific Northwest, including the 2010 WNBA championship season with the Seattle Storm, Wright wanted to see what it would be like playing closer to loved ones on the East Coast.

"With my family all being in New York, I now have the opportunity to play in front of them," Wright said. "They've supported me for so many years, and this is something I can give to them: a chance to watch me play in person. It's really nice."

Wright and center Tina Charles are the only Liberty players who've started every game this season. Wright is averaging 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds.

Charles (17.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG) is an MVP candidate. Guard Epiphanny Prince (15.3 PPG, 3.5 APG) was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for August. Sugar Rodgers (8.3 PPG) and Brittany Boyd (6.6 PPG) are young guards who've shown dynamic ability.

"With my family all being in New York ... they've supported me for so many years, and this is something I can give to them: a chance to watch me play in person. It's really nice." Tanisha Wright

At 31, Wright is the second-oldest player on the Liberty, behind Swin Cash, who like Wright grew up in the greater Pittsburgh area and will be 36 later this month. So the Liberty's youngsters have veterans who really understand what it takes to last long term in the physical grind of the WNBA and overseas.

"It's not just about basketball and being on the court," Wright said. "It's also how you handle yourself, how to be a professional."

Defense, of course, has always been what Wright is best known for, including her college days as a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Wright said that to some extent great defense is more instinctual than anything. Some of it -- especially one-on-one lockdown ability -- really can't be taught.

But what everyone can learn and improve on is how they fit into the team defensive scheme. That's one of the things Wright takes the most pride in helping the Liberty do well.

"You can pass on having the right attitude and the work ethic," Wright said of mentoring. "Even if you're not the best defender, if you go out there and bust your butt, most of the time you can get it done.

"Being a good defender for your team does not necessarily mean being a good one-on-one defender. You need people to work as a team and be in the right position, so everyone feels confident that, 'If I go out there and do what I'm supposed to, even if I get beat, I'm going to have help behind me.'"

Wright has found that the move to the Eastern Conference has its challenges, mostly because she was so familiar with Western Conference personnel from playing those teams more. But she is a quick study, and she has worked well with Laimbeer.

"Playing for Bill has been great," Wright said. "He understands what kind of players he has and puts us in the best position to be successful. He expects us to do what we're good at, to be able to provide for our team.

"I think me kind of partnering up with Bill has helped push the whole defensive mindset even further for this team. We do have great offensive weapons, but for us to be really good, we're going to have to play defense."

In every way, this has been the correct choice for Wright, and for the Liberty.

"Whenever you feel wanted, it's easier to make the decision to move," Wright said. "From the beginning, I really felt like they wanted me here in New York."