--So far, Lindsay Whalen has remained dry-eyed in the week following the announcement of her retirement as a player.
At the press conference Monday, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve cried while Whalen cracked jokes.
Will that change tonight?
The Lynx end their regular season tonight against the Washington Mystics at Target Center. The team is planning a post-game celebration of Whalen’s career. The upper bowl of Target Center has been opened in anticipation of a good-sized crowd. Sunday mornning at least a few people were betting that, ultimately, we might see some tears from Whalen.
Washington coach Mike Thibault, who coached Whalen in Connecticut – and whose daughter, Carly Thibault-DuDonis is her assistant at the University of Minnesota – is betting so. And Lynx center Sylvia Fowles is, too.
“I think she’s been doing a really good job of holding things back,’’ Fowles said. “She’s been going and going and going. But I think tonight it will hit. And we’ll get some emotions.’’
It will certainly be emotional for everyone else involved with the Lynx. “It’s like our big sister leaving home to go to college,’’ Fowles said. “You don’t want her to leave, even though she gets on your nerves. You don’t want her to go. And yes, it’s going to be emotional. I’ll try not to cry.’’
Actually, it’s almost exactly that, of course. Whalen is leaving the Lynx to go coach the Gophers.
But what about Whalen? Does she think the emotions will be high?
“I don’t know, we’ll see what happens,’’ Whalen said. “Hopefully it’s after a good win. But I’m just going to roll with it, just kind of enjoy it. Take it all in. We’ll see what happens.’’
--There is so much at stake for his team tonight that Thibault said the emotions of the evening won’t get to him.
But after tonight’s Lynx-Mystics game has ended, when the Lynx honor Whalen, and Thibault has to speak?
“I’ll be more emotional then,’’ Thibault said after the Mystics’ shootaround this morning. “But the good thing for me, and the reason I can be a little less emotional than some, s that I know what’s coming next.’’
You can bet that coach Thibault and his wife will be at a lot of games this fall and winter at Williams Arena.
“Coaches talk all the time about the journey, and enjoying it,’’ Thibault said. “Whalen’s as good as anyone I know in doing that. The day-to-day stuff, the camaraderie with teammates. That’s all big with her. She can walk away from this and still have that. I think that’s a big thing for her, and I’ll get to see it up close.’’
It’s just a stroke of scheduling luck that Whalen got to play at Connecticut – her first WNBA home – and against Washington in her final two regular season games. She got to say thanks to Sun fans, and got to see her old coach tonight.
--Talk to some of the players on the Mystics team and you get an idea of just how well-respected Whalen is.
Mystics guard Kristi Toliver has been in the WNBA since 2010, the year Whalen came back to Minnesota, via trade. She played most of her career in Los Angeles, moving to Washington last season. Toliver and Whalen have gone head-to-head a slew of times, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, including that loss to the Sparks in five games in 2016.
“It will be sad,’’ Toliver said of Whalen’s leaving the league. “Lindsay has been huge for this league. The thing I’ll miss the most is her competitive edge. Her competitive spirit. She’s a typical Midwestern person. She’s nice, sweet. But then, when she crosses that line onto the court? She’s ready to get after it. As a competitor, that’s what I’m going to miss. She always brought it, 100 percent. She certainly brought out the best in me.’’
Elena Delle Donne has played against Whalen and also as her teammate at the Olympics.
“I mean, you can’t stand her when she’s on the other team,’’ Delle Donne said. “She’s brutal to go against. But then, to have her on your team, you see how much she can change a game, a team. Not just with her skill, but with her grit. Not many players have that.’’
--Myisha Hines-Allen is a rookie with the Mystics. After the two teams played in a preseason game this spring, Whalen went up to Hines-Allen after the game. Her message was simple: Whalen said she liked Hines-Allen’s game, thought she had a great future in the league, and to keep working hard.
“It’s pretty cool to have a legend saying that about me,’’ Hines-Allen said. “Because if you’re a fan of basketball, you have to be a fan of Lindsay’s.’’