June 16, 2024 

Napheesa Collier’s growth and excellence represented in Team USA selection

Napheesa Collier is headed back to the Olympics with Team USA. This time around, she plans to play a much bigger role

MINNEAPOLIS—The WNBA announced it would be adding Minnesota as an expansion franchise in the spring of 1998. The team was named the Lynx in December of ‘98 and played its first season in 1999. In the summer of 2000, the franchise’s first superstar and current assistant coach Katie Smith was named to the Olympic team. 

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Team USA won gold that summer, and every tournament since then, too. And every single group of women’s basketball players that USA Basketball has sent to the Olympics has included at least one member of the Minnesota Lynx since the franchise has existed. 

There was Smith in 2000, and again in 2004 (and also in 2008, as a member of the Detroit Shock). Seimone Augustus went in 2008, and was joined by Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen in 2012. Sylvia Fowles was on the ‘12 team too, which gave the Lynx four Olympians for Rio in 2016 after Fowles made the move from Chicago to Minnesota. Fowles played in her final Olympic Games in 2020, where she was joined by her young Lynx teammate Napheesa Collier, the youngest player on the roster. 

“Last time, I was the youngest player on the team and I was the No. 12 on the roster,” Collier said to reporters after USA Basketball announced this year’s Olympic roster. “Obviously, I hope my role is a lot bigger this time around … get to play more, fight for starting positions, things like that. The goal is the same, to win the gold. So no matter what that looks like, that’s what I want the result to be.”

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Collier’s selection writes another chapter in Lynx lore, an additional testament to the longevity of excellence within the franchise. It’s also, however, a statement of how much Collier has grown as a player and a leader in the last three years. 

“I’m really excited. It’s such an honor every time you get picked to play for Team USA,” Collier said. “This time is no different and to play in the Olympics, it’s the highest caliber. So I’m really honored, really excited and I can’t wait to get to Paris.” 

At the 2020 games in Tokyo, Collier saw the fewest minutes and scored the fewest points. Fast forward to 2024, where she led Team USA in scoring across three games at the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Antwerp, Belgium. The Americans went 3-0 in those games and Collier was named to the tournament’s ‘All-Star Five.’ 

“I think I’ve definitely grown as a player since the last time I was with [the national team],” Collier said in an interview with The Next after the tournament. “[In the 2020 Olympics], I’d only been in the league a couple years, I was the youngest on the team. I was really just happy to be there, honestly. This time, I knew that my role would be expanded a little bit. I felt really ready for that. I’m proud of where I am as a player and how hard I’ve worked so I just wanted to go out and play my game, not think about anything too much and just play how I normally do.”

Collier has only made her name shine even brighter since that tournament in February. She and teammate Kayla McBride first led Fenerbahçe to another EuroLeague Women championship. Now, Collier’s excellent play has her not only in the MVP conversation once again, but also has the Lynx at the top of the Western Conference and a place in the Commissioner’s Cup Finals on June 25. 

Collier’s all-around excellence and dynamism was on full display in Minnesota’s 81-76 win against the Sparks on Friday. A franchise-record eight steals combined with a game-high 30 points made her the first player in WNBA history to post 30+ points, 8+ steals, 5+ rebounds, and 2+ blocks in a game. 

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Collier said. “Every offseason, every season you’re going out there trying your best and re-evaluating after the season’s over to see what you need to get better at and just working on those things. I’m older now, wiser. I have more experience in the game.

“Before, I would be happy just getting [Team USA’s] water, so happy to just be on the team. This time around, obviously I hope to have a bigger role. I don’t know if I’m a vet on the team, but I feel like more of a vet than I was last time. I have three more years experience in the league and playing overseas now. All that combined just leads to [being] a better overall player. I think my basketball IQ is higher and hopefully I can showcase those skills in the Olympics.”

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It’s not difficult to imagine Collier will be a central figure of USA’s plans in Paris. The head coach charged with ensuring USA women’s basketball brings home an 8th consecutive gold medal is the same one she’s been starring in front of every night in the W and more than understands the significance of Minnesota Lynx in the Olympics. 

“That’s pretty special. Congratulations to Phee,” Lynx Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations/Team USA Head Coach Cheryl Reeve told reporters. “Obviously, we’re super proud. To get to be on this journey with her makes it really, truly special. 

“Go back to Katie Smith. She’s got great stories. That’s where the culture of USA basketball was built and founded. We’re still trying to carry on that culture today, much like we talk about with the Lynx. I think it’s an incredible statement on the franchise that we’ve been able to be a part of so many [Olympic teams], and just when you think maybe things were turning away from the Lynx, Napheesa Collier happens. She’ll have, no doubt, a nice run, and hopefully in the future we’ll continue to be part of it and we can keep our streak going.”

The history of the Lynx and Team USA is undeniable, but when the games start, as Collier said, “the goal is the same, to win the gold.” Team USA is sending a group of women rich in talent and experience to Paris who are taking the opportunity of an 8th straight gold medal anything but lightly. 

“It’s going to take a lot,” Collier said. “The talent gets better and better every year. You want to knock down the person who’s on top and we’ve been on top for so long so I know everyone’s coming for blood. We have the 12 most talented players in the entire world on our team, but we can’t take anyone lightly. It’s going to be a really, really hard competition. It’s going to be really tough.”  

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Written by Terry Horstman

Terry Horstman is a Minneapolis-based writer and covers the Minnesota Lynx beat for The Next. He previously wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves, and his other basketball writing has been published by Flagrant Magazine, HeadFake Hoops, Taco Bell Quarterly, and others. He's the creative nonfiction editor for the sports-themed literary magazine, the Under Review.

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