June 16, 2020 

‘I think there will be a lot of sacrifices’: Dream coach Nicki Collen’s approach to the WNBA season

Collen hopes to take 12 players to Florida who are ready to play

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Atlanta Dream Head Coach Nicki Collen during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 21, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

If all goes according to plan, the WNBA season will kick off in late July at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. There are still quite a few unknowns and question marks surrounding the league’s plans, but Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen is ready to get some answers and get to work.

“I think we’re going to have to be quick on our feet and figure things out,” Collen said. “… I think from a coach’s perspective, there are challenges in regards to not having fans. There are challenges in regards to how quickly it’s going to come upon us. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to coach again.”

Players have the ability to opt out of the season, whether it’s for health reasons, such as players who are at higher risk for complications if infected with COVID-19, or players who simply don’t feel it’s in their best interest to play this season. A player who is electing not to play must inform her team of that decision by June 25.

“I don’t think anyone should be surprised when there are players in this league that choose to opt out,” Collen said. “We have to be prepared, I think, as a league, as a franchise, to support players with what they’re comfortable with right now.”

At this point, the Dream are unaware of any Atlanta players who will be exercising that option, though it is certainly possible that that will change in the coming days before the deadline. And when the roster is finalized, Collen plans to head into Florida with 12 players who are ready to go.

“My goal is to go in there with 12 players that want to be there and view it as an opportunity and to support those if they have concerns,” Collen said. “To support those if they’re not comfortable for whatever reason with going there. It’s not going to be easy.

“… Now that I know that they’ve voted to have a season, that the season at this point is imminent, it’s about me gathering information and finding out where each individual player is at and then meeting them where they’re at and then figuring out what’s the right thing for each player. I think that range is really big.”

From Collen’s early conversations with her players, she’s gathered that there’s a wide range of reactions to the plan. Some players are ready to get going, while others have more questions and are a bit wary of the situation. As the Dream gets closer to training camp, which is set to begin in early July, Collen will need to balance each player’s needs and figure out the best way to support her roster in a wholly unprecedented situation.

“I don’t think we’re going to be put in a perfect situation,” Collen said. “I think there will be a lot of sacrifices in the bubble. I don’t think it’s going to run smoothly because we’re all going into an environment where some of the things we can plan for, and some of the things we can’t.”

When it comes to the actual games, there will be no fans in the stands, which presents its own set of challenges, though Collen was quick to point out that it’s a challenge every team will have to overcome. Simply put, there are no advantages or disadvantages for any team, because they’re all in the same space dealing with the same set of challenges.

The schedule has been compressed to 22 games from 36, and the league has stated that each team will play three games each week. As Collen pointed out, that’s a reduction from the typical WNBA schedule, which frequently sees teams play four games in seven days or five games in nine.

When combined with the lack of travel, it stands to reason — in Collen’s view — that there may actually be some advantages to the format of playing in the bubble.

“I think from a load management perspective, there are advantages to this,” Collen said. “I’ve never coached a game in front of no fans. I don’t know what the challenge is for that. I just know that both teams won’t have fans. … We’re going to have make it work moments, as Tim Gunn likes to say on Project Runway, and we’re just going to figure it out.”

There are still many questions to be answered before the season gets underway, and it remains possible that despite the plans being put in place, the virus will have other ideas and the season will be stopped before it can even start.

But at this point, Collen is hopeful and ready to get to work.

“Some people will say there will be an asterisk by this season just because of what’s going on and it’s not a normal season,” Collen said. “But to me, why can’t it be the beginning of something special?”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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