UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- From the night two years ago that the New York Liberty traded up into the first round of the WNBA Draft to select her, Kiah Stokes has been proving people wrong.
Yet it seems that the biggest challenge for the 2015 University of Connecticut honors graduate and third-year New York Liberty forward is proving to herself that she belongs at the highest level.
"I'm just trying to be more confident," Stokes said Wednesday. "That's always been my issue. My coaches mean a lot to me and my teammates mean a lot to me and I'm just trying to fill the role that is asked of me.
"It's not like I doubt myself. I want to do well and do what I can for my teammates."
Stokes' homecoming night at Mohegan Sun Arena Wednesday was one she'd rather forget as she picked up two early fouls and never got into a flow. She missed all three of her shots from the floor and finished with just one point and two rebounds in 18 minutes of a 96-76 loss to the Connecticut Sun.
The Liberty will look to bounce back Friday night when they visit the Dallas Wings.
But for most of the season, Stokes has been doing for the Liberty what Stokes does best. She has started all 10 games for New York and is averaging 6.5 points while ranking eighth in the league in rebounds (7.8) and blocked shots (1.4). She had a career high 23 points along with 14 rebounds in a June 4 win over the Phoenix Mercury.
"This team needs me to be a good defender and to be aggressive on offense," Stokes said. "I have to go out there and handle my business, do the things that I have to and that the team needs me to do to succeed."
Her shooting percentage, though, is down 21 percent from a year ago to 42.9 percent and her turnovers have almost doubled.
The margin of error seemed smaller during her time at UConn when at times one mistake was followed by another, leading her to a spot on coach Geno Auriemma's bench.
Of course, Auriemma had All-Americans like Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart, and Morgan Tuck to turn to while Stokes was in Storrs. New York coach Bill Laimbeer, who has always maintained confidence in the Marion, Iowa, native, doesn't have those kind of options.
But Laimbeer was aggressive in acquiring the 11st pick of the first round of the 2015 WNBA Draft to get Stokes -- who started just seven games with the Huskies but was the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and an all-league second-team selection -- for a reason.
"I'm more confident now than I was in college," said Stokes, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year voting in her first season in New York. "But this is a different league. It's different. The style is different."
The lifestyle is also different.
Stokes spent her first WNBA offseason in South Korea but last winter was spent in Turkey where she was a teammate of Liberty guard Shavonte Zellous.
She figured she had three days between the end of her season in Turkey and her first day of training camp with the Liberty.
"A break? When?" Stokes said smiling.
"I guess I have to get used it," she added. "It is kind of annoying when the WNBA season starts running down in September and we're into the playoffs and I have to start thinking about going overseas again. I love playing basketball and it beats getting a real job. But I do get to travel and see the world. I can't complain.
"Last year was my first time playing the full seven months in Europe rather than the shorter season in South Korea. But I feel pretty good. I'm just trying to do my part and help the team win games."
The Liberty had the best record in the Eastern Conference a year ago and received a first-round bye in the playoffs but lost their postseason opener to the Mercury at Madison Square Garden.
At 6-4, they currently hold the No. 4 playoff spot, which would again get them a first-round bye. They trail the Washington Mystics and the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks by one game in the race for second that would give them a double-bye into the best-of-five semifinal round.
"Minnesota right now sets the standard," Stokes said of the unbeaten Lynx.
While in Dallas Friday night, Stokes hopes to get more of an opportunity to speak to former UConn teammate Saniya Chong, who made the Wings' roster after being a third-round choice in April's draft.
They did see each other briefly when Dallas visited the Garden on June 2.
"A lot of third-round picks don't make the team, but I did think she had a good shot to make that Dallas team," Stokes said. "I'm glad she did. I think she's definitely a steal of the draft. I know how well she can play. I know how well she can shoot and handle the ball. I was happy for her and hopefully she's only getting started. Yes, there's still a long way to go but she has a lot of potential."
Stokes knows that journey well.