When Kenisha Bell was selected in the third round with the 30th overall pick of the 2019 WNBA draft by the Lynx, it marked the eighth time a Gophers player was drafted and the fourth one selected by the hometown team.
Bell was the first, though, to be drafted since former Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen took over as Gophers coach. That puts her in a unique spot given the close relationship between Lynx coach/General Manager Cheryl Reeve and Whalen.
Reeve, a Gophers women’s basketball season-ticket holder, said she talked to Whalen about what Bell could do for the Lynx before she drafted Bell.
Reeve is looking for players this season who can shoot — and won’t hesitate to shoot this season. That is one thing Reeve said Bell needs to work on, coming out of her senior year shooting 39.4% from the field and 27.1% from three-point range.
“I want her to shoot a three, and I know Lindsay Whalen wanted her to shoot the three more,” Reeve said. “But now she knows it’s really not optional. If you’re open from three, and I told her, it’s the same thing I told Danielle [Robinson], if you’re open from three and you don’t shoot it, you’re coming out.”
Bell and the Lynx’s new talent will be on display Friday night as the team plays the Washington Mystics in its first preseason game at 7 p.m. at Target Center. She should get chances to shoot, and she’s been doing plenty of it already.
Bell, a 5-10 guard, said she’s been able to get a head start on the other six rookies on the training camp roster fighting for roster spots.
“Personally, I think it’s been going well just because I was able to get a start right after our season ended at college,” said Bell, a Minneapolis native. “I was able to come in early and get some reps at the two spot, and learning different plays and things like that. So I thought for the most part I’ve been learning pretty fast.”
With the Gophers, Bell averaged a team-high 19.1 points with 5.9 rebounds per game while starting every game and rarely leaving the court. She was the centerpiece of the team in Whalen’s first year coaching her alma mater. Whalen starred as a point guard for both the Gophers and the Lynx in her lengthy basketball career that came to a close last year when the Lynx didn’t make it past the first round for the first time since 2010.
Though Reeve mentioned her shot, and Bell said it was something she needed to work on, too, Reeve used the word “trust” when talking about how she feels when Bell is on the court, adding that “when she’s out there, I feel good.”
But Bell still faces an uphill climb to make the roster. Last year, Reeve drafted the No. 3 all-time scorer for the Gophers, Minnesota native Carlie Wagner, with the final pick in the draft. Wagner was cut during camp.
Those were different times with more veteran players on the Lynx, however. Now Maya Moore is sitting out a year, Whalen is retired, and it is unknown whether Rebekkah Brunson will come back as she continues to experience symptoms from a concussion last season.
Of the rookies, first-round draft pick Napheesa Collier from UConn will most likely make the team. Having so many rookies in camp, she said, has been helpful to her.
“It’s actually kind of comforting because sometimes there’s only one or two on a team, and you’re the only one learning all these new offenses,” said Collier, a 6-2 forward. “As much as I’m sure it’s frustrating for the coaches and the vets, it’s kind of comforting for the rookies knowing that we’re all struggling.”
Even while struggling, though, Bell has shown that she belongs here.
“Her best days are when we’re playing up and down,” Reeve said. “She shows she’s a pro athletically. She is somebody that just gets to places in a hurry. She can screw up a defensive assignment, and catch up and fix her error. Not many players can do that.”
Jack Warrick is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.