August 30, 2020 

Lynx emphasize communication, authenticity as they return to basketball

Cheryl Reeve's goal was to make her players feel "very comfortable" in Friday's win over the Atlanta Dream.

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Napheesa Collier and Odyssey Sims shared their excitement to return to basketball on Friday, but Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve is ready to deal with feelings of hesitation to play should they arise. Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx Twitter account.

On Wednesday, Cheryl Reeve questioned the game of basketball’s ability to serve as an escape for her players.

“This is what they love to do, and in some ways, it’s an escape,” said Reeve Wednesday night, “but I don’t even think it’s that anymore.”

But after her players returned to the court on Friday after two days of no basketball, Reeve was ready to contradict herself.

“I feel like once the ball is tipped, it kind of brings you into focus a little bit more — the basketball part of it,” Reeve said. “I can’t tell you necessarily how they were feeling, but I think probably—I have said that this has not been much of a release or it’s not as much of a release as maybe it was before, but today it might have been, contrary to that. I think it probably felt good for them to get out there and not keep talking about, thinking about the current events. Getting out there for 40 minutes and playing a game was probably pretty good for them.”

Reeve’s sentiments were true for both Napheesa Collier and Odyssey Sims who led their team to an 88-79 victory over the Atlanta Dream who they had lost to five days prior.

Collier recorded 19 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal against the Dream, while Sims added 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in just her fifth game of the season.

Collier shared her excitement for returning to basketball Friday morning. Those feelings remained after her team improved to 10-4.

“It felt really good,” Collier said. “We hadn’t played since what, Sunday? It’s Friday today, so to get back on the court and play … it was weird that we played them last game and we were playing them again, but like I said, it felt really good to be out there and be with the team and just focus on that.”

Sims wore a “Basketball In My Soul” Nike shirt in her first Zoom postgame availability of the season and shared her relief of returning to basketball after what was — to say the least — a difficult week.

“It’s been a tough week with everything that’s been happening,” Sims said. “Canceled the games Wednesday and Thursday. Just, you know, it’s tough to think about it. What is our world coming to? I have a son that I have to raise in this crazy world. But we’re making it every day. We’re just going to keep praying, and hopefully, everything gets better.

“It felt great to be out there. Just doing what Cheryl asks. She wants me to get to the rim and create for my teammates. I get a lot of attention in pick-and-rolls just because I draw people. I’m just doing what Cheryl asking of me and just staying aggressive on the offensive end.”

But assuming every WNBA player will feel the same as Collier and Sims when they return to basketball is a reckless assumption. Playing basketball may be cathartic for some, but one win won’t wash away the emotional turmoil players and coaches alike are feeling.

Reeve knows that and acknowledges not all 144 of the league’s players will be as willing to play as Collier and Sims were on Friday night.

“Everyone is experiencing the same thing, which is on a 12-player roster or an 11-player roster, you’re going to get differing opinions about what people need — even coaches,” Reeve said.

Reeve shared that just like in the NBA, some players wanted to play on Wednesday night, the first night of the league’s two-day player strike.

“But I think the most important thing for each of those leagues and for the players of those leagues is that they are unified,” Reeve said. “There is solidarity in their decision-making. And so what that means is somebody’s not going to ‘get their way.’ That’s just something that’s life. You do the best that you can. The majority is probably going to win. But like I said, our team is no different than all the other teams. Some want to play, some don’t. And the ones that don’t, you try to have any conversations that need to be had.”

Lynx co-captain Sylvia Fowles has missed Minnesota’s last five games due to a calf injury but shared that if she were healthy, she may be hesitant to play.

“Personally, if I was playing, I wouldn’t be sure if I wanted to go back to playing, only for the baseline reasons that it takes more than one day to reflect on what’s going on because things are happening rapidly — every day, almost — at a fast pace, so it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around what’s most important,” said Fowles after Friday’s shootaround.

“We didn’t have to cross that bridge with Syl because she wasn’t able to play, but I certainly understand the sentiment,” Reeve said. “We would have had conversations, and if she would have felt like had she been healthy and had she said, ‘Cheryl, I don’t want to play,’ I would have 100% supported her — or anybody else that would have said that. But that situation didn’t come up.”

For now, Reeve’s goal is to make her players feel as comfortable as possible. But don’t hold your breath while waiting for her to coddle players in huddles. If she’s expecting players to be themselves, she’s not going to sell them short.

“What I think people need is for you to be yourself,” Reeve said. “If you’re not yourself, then everything feels weird and it probably exacerbates the situation. I wanted them to feel very, very comfortable today. I was myself. I yelled when yelling needed to happen because if you chose to play and be out here, well, let’s do it. Let’s do it and let’s do it to the best of our ability. We have fans back home that are invested in us, and we want to win for them. I have an owner — who I don’t put in the category of the billionaires I was speaking of on my call Wednesday — that we have a responsibility to.

“I just think overall, being yourself is the best that you can give them in these uncertain times.”

Written by Katie Davidson

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