July 5, 2024 

Nika Mühl doesn’t want undeserved minutes

Mühl: 'I gotta earn my spot'

SEATTLE — In a matter of months Seattle Storm rookie Nika Mühl went from regularly playing all 40 minutes as a UConn senior to rarely checking in for more than a minute in the WNBA. After playing more than just one minute in a game for the first time since May against the Dallas Wings on June 29, Mühl was thrilled.

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“I mean, it felt amazing. I feel like any second that I get to have on the court with these players is fun and enjoyable and I get to learn something new every time,” Mühl told The Next.

As excited as Mühl was, her mind immediately went to the negativity she has seen on social media surrounding her lack of playing time.

“I see a lot of people questioning my coach’s decisions and I know it might seem like it’s coming from a good spirit, but I love my coach and I think her decisions are amazing and I respect them.

“I gotta earn my spot, simple as that. And while I’m earning my spot, I’m having fun and I’m growing and I’m learning — so getting those minutes today is huge. And I’m just waiting for my opportunity and I love waiting for it too.”

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The reality of the situation is that the makeup of Seattle’s roster is significantly different from 2023. Last season, rookies like Jordan Horston, Jade Melbourne and Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu got to play significant minutes as Seattle tried desperately to find some wins.

“If you look at the makeup of our team [this season], it’s just difficult,” Storm head coach Noelle Quinn told The Next. “You have multiple people in front of [Nika] — we have vets, we have experience, talent, and all of those things that come into play when we’re trying to get wins in a tough league.”

“Coming from college and trying to play the pro game there’s a lot of nuances that you can’t pick up in one or two months so it’s gonna take some time,” Quinn added. “She’s been fine, she’s been a pro. She’s understanding that this is a different physicality, different game speed, a different mind game — that’s her mental approach to the game and she’s well aware of the situation.”

“I was taught all my life you can’t just be given things,” Mühl said echoing her understanding of the situation. “If I was playing right now I would feel like I’m being given things because I don’t think I’ve earned it yet. And I’m on that journey and I’m getting better and it’s my journey and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Jewell Loyd, Seattle’s star guard, has been impressed with how Mühl has gone about this journey. The Olympian and All Star told media that Mühl has been locked in from day one, impressing everyone with her active engagement. Though she still has terminology and details to learn, Loyd praised her rookie accountability partner.

“She’s been a really good teammate,” Loyd said. “She’s been really locked in and she works her butt off. I don’t think people see that side — we always see what happens in the game but she’s always the first one in the gym and always doing what she needs to do — so she’s a really good pro.”

Rookie mentality

Mercedes Russell, Mühl’s veteran Storm teammate, knows what it’s like to play limited minutes as a second-round pick. Picked No. 22 overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty, Russell was waived after playing just two games. The Storm picked up the Tennessee rookie and Russell has spent her entire WNBA career in Seattle since, winning a WNBA championship in both 2018 and 2020.

Over time Russell has carved out a spot for herself — a reliable bench option averaging anywhere from 15-25 minutes. As a rookie, however, she averaged just four minutes per game. While the 6’6 center doesn’t remember a ton from her rookie year she does remember the terrific vets and incredibly talented players she called teammates — Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Crystal Langhorne, Alysha Clark, Natasha Howard and Courtney Paris, just to name a few.

“It was like there was a roster full of people I could soak up information from and be a sponge from,” Russell told The Next.

Nika Mühl smiles at her teammates, including Mercedes Russell (left), in a huddle at a game at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. (Photo provided by Seattle Storm)

Mühl appears to be following Russell’s advice, enjoying the process. She also plays a role as a vocal supporter. You can hear her screaming from the bench all game whether she checks into the game or not. In practice, she’s constantly clapping and supporting her teammates.

“You just gotta stay ready at all times because in the game of basketball everyone on the team is needed,” Russell said. “Whether you’re on the court, on the bench cheering or just supporting — being ready in any moment and being able to provide whatever the team needs from you whether it’s three minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, however long.”

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Playing time or not, Mühl is getting the most out of this experience.

“I want people to know that not playing is not always a bad thing. It’s okay — you’re growing, you’re learning, you’re practicing every day, you’re working on it, and the opportunity is gonna come,” Mühl said. “I’m a firm believer in hard work pays off. Whenever. When it does it does, but it’s just the journey and it’s all good.”

Written by Bella Munson

Bella has been a contributor for The Next since September 2023 and is the site's Seattle Storm beat reporter. She also writes for The Equalizer while completing her Journalism & Public Interest Communication degree at the University of Washington.

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