Thursday was a strange day for Rebekkah Brunson because practice ended when it ended.
Usually, the Lynx forward will stay after an extra 20 minutes, working 1-on-1 with assistant coach Jim Petersen. But Petersen held her out Thursday for the first time all season due to some minor tendinitis in one of her knees.
Brunson's normal post work is done during the group timeframe, and in that space, she exhibits the work ethic that has given her coaches and teammates such a deep respect for her. But that reach-for-it attitude doesn't stop when everyone else does. Instead, for the past full year, she has adopted a new routine with the purpose of adding to a game that already impresses with tenacious rebounding and defensive intensity.
Brunson is the fourth member of the Lynx's "The Big Four" -- the one who didn't go to the Olympics with Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore. But as the team heads into the first game of a four-game homestand Tuesday against Western Conference contender San Antonio, the 30-year-old Brunson has continued to show she is just as critical a part of its success.
"She just has the 'it' -- whatever 'it' is -- to be great," said Petersen, who called the 6-2 Brunson the hardest-working power forward in the game. "She could have easily been an Olympian. We could have had four Olympians on that team, really because she's just as good as anybody on the Olympic team, really."
Brunson was one of 21 finalists in Team USA's pool but didn't make the cut of 12 to go to London, staying instead in Minneapolis with a team that did everything from yoga to Zumba to paddleboarding to break the monotony of the five-week break.
"No frustration at all," she said. "I just do what I do on the court and I continue to play. ... I've just been blessed to be in that pool."
But her coaches say she would have fit right in. Petersen said because Brunson knows she is not the kind of player that can naturally "roll out of bed and score 30," she works harder than anyone to force her game to the next level.
"When you have a team of stars like the Olympics in terms of the guard play that's there, you need somebody willing to do the dirty work," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Rebekkah is not going to ask for plays to be run for her; she's not going to be the player that's kind of saying, 'Hey, what about me?' She's just going about her business, and that's going to get rebounds."
The perception that rebounding is all she does, though, is rapidly changing. Brunson always has been able to score, but now she's doing it from all over the court. A year ago, she set about to improve that side of her game when Petersen noticed she had "technically pretty much perfect form for her jump shot." He started a 15-minute routine with her before stretches on gamedays, a ritual that quickly extended to after practices when Brunson started seeing results.
She had back-to-back double-doubles last week, combing for 41 points at Seattle and Atlanta on 18-for-25 shooting. Since she came to Minnesota in 2010, her shooting percentage has jumped from .429 to .511 to .532 this year.
"She's a pro," Moore said. "That's what real pros do. They bring everything they can every day and you know you're going to get that from her."
But there are ways she helps far beyond what one can pick up in the boxscore, Petersen said.
"It just gives us more options ... and it makes us tougher to guard," Petersen said. "If [opposing players] can't leave Rebekkah, the person that's guarding her can't come and help on a drive to the basket ... so it just opens things up more and it makes us better."
Which is something Brunson is always striving, and practicing, to do.