The pandemic-shortened WNBA season kicks off at noon on Saturday, July 25, giving Virginia fans their first chance at seeing Jocelyn Willoughby in action. Willoughby’s entire WNBA journey has taken place in the new COVID-19 reality, ranging from her being drafted by the New York Liberty in April to the start of the season today.
Willoughby went in the first round (No. 10 overall) to the Phoenix Mercury, but was later traded to the Liberty for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. In New York, Willoughby joins the No. 1 overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu, as two of seven rookies on the 12-woman roster. It’s hard to gauge what to make of the Liberty — who face WNBA veteran Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm to open the season — but the excitement around the young squad is palpable.
“The New York Liberty might be the most fun low-stakes WNBA team to watch, and Willoughby will be a part of why that is,” Matt Ellentuck of Here’s Basketball said of the Liberty. “New York has seven rookies (SEVEN!) who are all going to get playing time at some point with a green-light to launch from deep. It’s the perfect situation for a young player, and spotting up next to Sabrina Ionescu can only help.”
When the Mercury snagged Willoughby late in the first round, WNBA legend and analyst Rebecca Lobo referred to the Cavalier as “the steal of the draft.” Willoughby is physically tough and quickly can adapt to the game around her.
“She doesn’t just hear everything, but rather she listens,” Jackie Powell of The Next explains. “There’s a difference. She has an ability to not only soak up every little X and O of New York’s ‘New Era’ basketball but also she has a grasp of her teammates’ tendencies and personalities. (They’ve only been together in real life for less than two weeks.)”
Willoughby played her first two seasons under Joanne Boyle before Virginia hired WNBA legend Tina Thompson. In her final season with the Hoos, Willoughby shot a career-best 45% from the field and 42% from three. She scored 577 points — bringing her career total to 1,677 — and averaged an ACC-leading 19 points per game. On top of that, she averaged 7.7 rebounds, two assists, and 1.3 steals per game.
“She’s one of those players that whatever opportunities she’s gonna be given, she’s gonna take advantage of that, but also can have the understanding to be patient and wait her turn,” Thompson said of her star before the draft back in April.
Throughout her time at Virginia, Willoughby excelled at everything. She graduated with a degree in Global Development Studies in just three years, was a resident of the Lawn, and was pursuing a master’s in Public Policy and Leadership at the Batten School (which she’s put on hold for now). There is an absolute laundry list of her accolades and accomplishments listed on Virginia’s player profile for Willoughby, a lot of which are off the court.
Now, playing for a team close to her home town of East Orange, New Jersey, Willoughby is finding other ways to give back. As a rookie, she is already a player rep for the WNBPA — the league’s player’s association — and told The Next that she wants to “engage and shape the landscape of the game.”
Willoughby has a bright future ahead of her, and the basketball portion of that gets underway today.
Check out Willoughby and the Liberty in action today (July 25) against the Seattle Storm at noon on ESPN.