Penn signs with Liberty

Penn signs with Liberty

Illinois senior Karisma Penn signed a free-agent contract Saturday with the New York Liberty of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Bypassed in the WNBA draft on April 15, Penn is joining a team looking to bolster its front court, in particular in the area of rebounding. The Liberty ranked seventh in the 12-team league last season in rebound average and rebounding differential.

The 6-foot-2 Penn concluded her Illini career as the program’s No. 2 all-time rebounder and the record-holder for blocked shots. A center in college, Penn is projected as a forward at the pro level. The honorable mention All-American averaged 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.18 blocks per game in her senior season.

“I’m excited,”  Penn said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to make a team, where if I had been drafted by a lot of the teams, I would have just filled a training camp roster versus having a real chance to make a team.”

WNBA training camps open May 5.

The Liberty had five draft picks and used one of them on a power forward, 6-2 Toni Young of Oklahoma State, with the overall No. 7 pick. New York also grabbed 6-4 center Kelsey Bone with the No. 5 choice.

Other power forwards on the roster include 6-3 Cheryl Ford, who is returning to the league after not playing the past three seasons, and 6-2 Plenette Pierson, who also can play center and was New York’s leading rebounder last season.

Former NBA center Bill Laimbeer is the coach and general manager of the Liberty. A former coach of the WNBA’s three-time champion Detroit Shock (now the Tulsa Shock), Laimbeer is entering his first season with New York after nearly four years out of the league, He won titles with Detroit in  2003, 2006 and 2008.

“Coach Laimbeer is a great coach,” Penn said. “Having the opportunity to go to New York and learn from him and his staff is exciting.”

In an on-line chat following the draft, Laimbeer discussed the fierce competition in a league with a maximum of 11 roster spots per team.

“Making the WNBA is very brutal even for first-rounders,” he wrote. “Each rookie must come to camp in top shape or they have limited possibilities. Then they must show their basketball IQ and talent throughout all the practices and preseason games. It’s tough!”

Although taking the name of New York, the Liberty plays its games in Newark, N.J.