March 13, 2024 

Alanna Smith and Courtney Williams are bringing a “great ball of energy” to Minnesota

The Lynx introduced the pair of free agent newcomers, who expressed their excitement at joining the franchise

MINNEAPOLIS — Introductory press conferences don’t often possess the same energy and excitement when conducted via Zoom as opposed to in person. However, when the players who are being introduced are new Minnesota Lynx forward Alanna Smith and guard Courtney Williams, the enthusiasm is too apparent to be contained by a screen. 

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Both players fill clear needs for the Lynx heading into the 2024 season. The elements of both of their respective games and the range of specialties they each bring to the table were discussed plenty at the Monday morning press conference. An undeniable take away from the event was just how excited the two former Chicago Sky players are to be together again for another season.

“I got a text from Courtney pretty early on [in the process], like ‘Hey, what’s up? Where you going? Let’s do it again together,’” Smith said. “It was just like a check-in, but also encouragement. ‘Hey, I want to play with you again!’ And this type of free agency for me this time around, it was kind of new. I had a breakout year last year and this free agency was something that I hadn’t really experienced in my career before. So to hear from Courtney was honestly really special for me and it made me feel really good about my decision. As well as going to [Minnesota], because I know Courtney wanted me there and I really enjoyed playing with her too. It was really cool for me to experience something like that as a player who has kind of had to take what she can get early on in her career and now [have]this opportunity.”

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Williams immediately confirmed that the feeling was mutual.  

“I hit Big Lan, I hit her up and said, ‘Big Lan, what are we doing? Let’s get to it,’” Williams said. “‘Let’s get to it.’ Lan is just a ball of great energy. We had so much fun last year. So when Cheryl [asked me] ‘How do you feel about Lan?’ I was like, ‘We’ve got to go get Lan!’ Lan is a dog, so I’m excited. I’m excited to play with Lan again for sure… I don’t think she gets enough credit. I feel like she should have been Sixth [Player of the Year] last year, or Most Improved or whatever, [the league] had to give her something because I felt like she came out and did a lot of great things.”

In addition to the infusion of chemistry the pair built over their 2023 season in Chicago, Smith and Williams will bolster Minnesota in areas that were lacking at times last season. Both players provide Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Cheryl Reeve the chance to run more two-player sets, Williams is fantastic in pick-and-roll, and Smith provides some much needed rim protection on defense. Abilities that have made both Smith and Williams attractive targets for the team dating further back than this season’s free agency period.  

“I’m excited to [have] two players who I think are coming off their best seasons as pros,” Reeve said. “Alanna is somebody that we got to know during the collegiate scouting process and we were close to being aligned at that time. Courtney is a player that we’ve played against for years, probably the best experience I had with Courtney was at the USA Basketball training camp here in Minneapolis. We got to know each other a bit and what each other is about. Then watching Courtney for Chicago be one of the best point guards in the league, that was exciting for us as that was one of the positions we were targeting.”

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When Lynx General Manager Clare Duwelius met with The Next in January to preview this year’s free agency period, she spoke of the team’s goal to add players who maximize the foundation that’s been laid in Minnesota, specifically that compliment franchise stalwarts Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride

“It’s a player or players who can relieve some pressure for [Collier] and [McBride],” Duwelius said when asked about the biggest priority heading into free agency. “Especially in the playoff run, which we put up a great fight against a really good team, but I think just relieving pressure, having a pressure valve that can help those two in the many ways that they are. Just having another weapon and another layer of defense.”  

Williams is a rare type of player who can serve the team both as a primary ball-handler and by playing off the ball. Fellow free agent acquisition and another former teammate of Williams, Natisha Hiedeman, will allow her to do plenty of both in Minnesota. She’s been a WNBA All-Star as a shooting guard, but also excelled last season, dishing out a career-high 6.3 assists per game in the point guard spot for Chicago.

“I was kind of forced into doing it last year [laughter],” Williams said. “And I learned so much. I always knew the point guard position was tough, but I think being actually thrown into the fire, I think it put that chip back on my shoulder because I’ve always been a Two. It gave me so much more room to just grow my game and do different things out there.”

The chance to play as a dynamic guard in Reeve’s system, combined with the top-shelf treatment she received from the organization, made Williams’s free agent decision an easy one. 

“Just feeling wanted,” Williams said. “Sometimes in free agency, you don’t have options. You just have to go wherever, honestly. I think this was my first free agency where I just felt so much love. Minnesota did a big one. I just feel so much love. I think for me, the biggest thing was just feeling wanted, and it was elite. So it was an easy decision for me, for sure.” 

Smith echoed the sentiments of feeling prioritized by the organization and also appreciated the opportunity to insert herself in a lineup featuring a talent like Collier. 

“I’m really excited to play with [Collier],” Smith said. “Just the type of player that Phee is and the presence she commands on the floor. I think being able to play with her and create for each other is going to be really fun. 

“A big part of me was looking for a place that I can call home. Talking to everyone from [Minnesota] and the feeling I got from them, I feel like Minny could be my second home for me in the U.S. Somewhere I can feel really comfortable as a non-American who doesn’t get to go home often, just a chance to feel really good in a spot for more than just one season. That was something that really, really helped me in my decision.”

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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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