For weeks Lindsay Whalen did, basically, nothing. And it was glorious.
All of November and half of December, Whalen, the Lynx guard, once and future Olympian, former Gophers star and Minnesota’s favorite daughter, rested. She didn’t go to the team’s facility. For the first time in a decade she didn’t go overseas to play.
She didn’t do any basketball stuff at all.
“For six weeks it was totally nothing,” Whalen said last week in the lobby of the DoubleTree Hotel in Rochester. She smiled just thinking about all that inactivity.
“For the first time in a long time I didn’t do anything,” she said. “I was home, going to movies in the afternoon, hanging out. Like Tuesdays at West End, you can go to the movies for $5.”
All this comes with the news that, when the Lynx open the regular season Saturday against archrival Phoenix hoping their third shot at repeating as WNBA champions is the charm, Whalen will be rested, happy, ready to play.
After a decade of a year-round basketball meat grinder, Whalen was determined to get away from the game long enough to make it special again and to be healthy enough to do something about it.
Check, she says, and check.
“I had to get to the point where I missed the game again,” she said. “I can tell you that. These last weeks [of camp] have been the most fun I’ve had on a team in so long.”
Teammate Maya Moore has noticed.
“I was keeping up with her during the offseason,” Moore said. “Just having conversations about how good that was for her body, her mind, for just her passion to give even more to this team. She gives so much to her team. That’s why you all love her. That’s why we love her. And so, now that she has more to give, watch out. It’s going to 2011-esque,” the year the Lynx won their first title.
When Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was convincing Renee Montgomery to return to the Lynx, her pitch was playing time. As a reserve, Montgomery — who, along with Anna Cruz, was so important to the Lynx winning the 2015 title — would play a lot, Reeves said.
It’s an Olympic year, and four Lynx players — Whalen, Moore, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus — will be on the U.S. team. Nobody on the team is getting younger. The Lynx needed depth to take minutes off the starters.
“So I said, ‘It kind of stinks that each time we try to repeat there is an Olympic year. Or World Championships,’ ” Reeve said. “[Renee] started laughing. I said, ‘What’s so funny about that?’ And she said, ‘Coach, those are like first-world problems.’ ”
OK, so the Lynx and their fans might be spoiled. But if the Lynx were going to finally repeat as league champs, some things had to happen. Health, for one. And the team’s bench had to get deeper. So Montgomery was re-signed. Janel McCarville signed on for another go. On draft day the Lynx traded the first of their two second-round choices to San Antonio for veteran guard Jia Perkins. Afterward Reeve said the team owed it to Whalen and Augustus to do whatever it could to keep the championship window open.
To be clear: With Moore and Fowles in their primes, the Lynx could be good for a while. But for this core group, which has been a part of three championships, now is the time.
“Definitely,” Whalen said. “The players we brought in, Jia, J-Mac. We have a good group. This is special. We all want to savor it as much as we can.”
Body broke down
Whalen played overseas in Turkey before the 2015 season, and her team went deep into the playoffs. Deep enough that she went directly from Europe to the Lynx. By August her body was falling apart.
“You could probably see my explosion wasn’t the same at times,” Whalen said. “I wasn’t going to the rim with the same aggressiveness at times. My body was breaking down, wearing down. It was like in August, when I’d been playing eight months in a row. It was just a lot of basketball.”
Bursitis in her ankle started it. Soon it was bursitis and Achilles’ heel inflammation. Her 10.9-point scoring average was her lowest since 2006. She had career lows in assists (4.3), rebounds (2.9) and steals (0.4). She sat out the end of the regular season, returning for the playoffs. But she wasn’t the same. In the fifth game of the league finals Whalen severely sprained her ankle. She returned briefly to play but was on the bench as the Lynx pulled away for the win.
It wasn’t until mid-December that the ankle was good enough to start working out. By then, weeks off had recharged her batteries and she was ready to go. She’d seen a few matinees, gone on two honest-to-goodness week-long vacations.
She missed the game again.
Healthy, Whalen dived into an offseason training program at the Mayo Clinic that adjoins the Lynx training facility.
Called EXOS, the program combines performance training with nutrition and physical therapy. Two hours at a time, Whalen would work on speed training, plyometrics and extensive weightlifting. She did that multiple times a week from mid-December through April.
“It helps you with your power, explosiveness, like getting through screens,” she said.
By February she started feeling it in her jump shot.
She also did a lot of work on pure basketball skills. She got drills from Reeve and assistant coach Shelley Patterson. Her goal from the moment she returned to the gym was to be ready for the Team USA camp in February. Playing for Team USA is a very big deal for Whalen, and she felt she had things to prove.
“By the end of last season I wasn’t playing that great,” she said. “I wanted to show I could still play, play well, and play at a high level.”
After that, everything was pointed at the WNBA season.
Hours of working on her shot — and her body — have made a difference. Always known for her ability to get to the basket, Whalen feels she will be more able to hit the jumper when a lane isn’t there. Look for her to shoot more three-pointers.
“I want to mix it up,” she said. “Look for the shot when it’s there. If not, take it to the rim. But be smart. With the team we have, the experience we have? I’m going to be aggressive. But I can pick my spots.”