February 21, 2024 

Napheesa Collier reflects on Team USA’s Olympic qualifiers

Collier led the US in total scoring across the tournament

By all accounts, 2023 was a banner year for Minnesota Lynx star Napheesa Collier. The former UConn star not only returned to full strength after missing nearly all of the 2022 season following the birth of her daughter, Mila, but reached another level of her game in leading the Lynx back to the playoffs.

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Not even two months into the new year and Collier is showing no signs of slowing down. She’s starred alongside her Minnesota teammate Kayla McBride for Fenerbahçe in Turkey, and recently helped Team USA to an emphatic 3-0 mark in the final Olympic Qualifying tournament in Antwerp, Belgium. 

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Collier led the US in total scoring across the tournament, including a game-high 23 point performance in a tight 81-79 win against the hosts in front of a very pro-Belgian capacity crowd. She added 12 and 22 points respectively in blowout wins against Nigeria and Senegal. Across the three games, Collier averaged 19.0 points in 23.5 minutes per game. Both high marks for her in international play. 

“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. “[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.” 

TOKYO, JAPAN – AUGUST 2: Napheesa Collier #11 of the USA Women’s National Team and Sylvia Fowles #13 of the USA Women’s National Team look on before the game against the France Women’s National Team during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the Saitama Super Arena on August 2, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

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In addition to her 19.0 points per contest, Collier added 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 3.0 assists per game on her way to being named to the tournament’s All-Star Five. She also earned a spot in the starting lineup in the finale against Senegal, not an easy feat considering the congestion of talent the team has at the four spot. 

“I think it just shows the hard work that I’ve put into my game the past couple years,” Collier said. “I’m really proud of myself in the way that I played. It’s always such an honor to wear ‘USA’ across my chest and I want to represent myself accordingly when I’m with them. 

“I’m glad that I got to showcase my skills and help the team anywhere I could. It was a really, really fun tournament so I’m glad that I got to be part of it.”

While Collier more than filled up the stat sheet in Belgium and converted her 2-point attempts at nearly a 75% clip, she shot 1-of-8 from three-point-range. It’s an element of her game that will remain a key focus to ensure she maintains a prominent role with USA Basketball as the team chases another gold medal in Paris this summer. 

“As a four, my position is so saturated,” Collier said. “The best players in the league are all fours so I think I will be playing a lot [at the] three. Knocking down threes is a big part of being a three player. I definitely want to keep working on that and get a bit more consistent and comfortable in that role.”

It’s a small sample size, but Collier did shoot 3-for-5 from behind the arc in her first two games after returning to Fenerbahçe in wins against Tarsus and Beşiktaş. 

It’s also worth noting that USA Basketball (and Minnesota Lynx) head coach Cheryl Reeve pointed out the budding chemistry of the USA starters in the final game of the tournament as a key development. 

“The group that started off the game, we were looking for that group building some chemistry,” Reeve said after the Senegal game. “I thought they were exceptional, particularly with [Napheesa Collier], Alyssa [Thomas] and Breanna Stewart working their inside-outside and sharing the ball. I thought it set the tone for us.” 

Building team chemistry in such a short amount of time is a challenge that many national teams face — though it doesn’t hurt when each member of the group in question is a WNBA All-Star. 

“I mean, it’s so cool to play with the best players in the league,” Collier said. “It’s just so fun and I think we were able to build our chemistry pretty quickly. It’s not easy when we don’t get a lot of time together. We had three days in training camp and it wasn’t even our set team, so we were playing with a lot of different people. I think you saw that a little bit in our first game, but each [game] that went along, I think we got better and better. 

“It’s easy to do that when you’re playing with players who are so skilled and obviously the best at what they do; so building that chemistry is I think a little bit more sped up than maybe it would be on a normal team.”

The next time the USA women’s national team convenes will be for their April training camp in Cleveland during the NCAA Women’s Final Four. The Paris Olympics kick off on July 26.    

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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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