The WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx opened training camp Sunday, and it felt a little different.
And not because a handful of regulars aren’t here yet because of overseas commitments, either. It was, frankly, a little quiet.
Coach Cheryl Reeve is still running the show, but she’s doing it a little differently, at least for a while. Reeve is less than four weeks removed from April 2 surgery to remove a benign tumor from the thoracic region of her spine. She spent a total of 14 days in April in the hospital, recovering from the initial surgery, and another nine-day stint caused by post-surgical complications.
Now, gradually, she is getting back on her feet, literally and figuratively. But, as far as coaching, things are a little different.
Rather than being in the midst of things on the court, she is watching mainly from the side, with assistants Shelley Patterson and Jim Petersen doing much of that work. A notably intense, vocal coach, she is yelling less now, watching more.
“It will be new,” Reeve said of her restrained demeanor. “But, actually, I think it will give me a new perspective. I don’t think you’ll hear me raise my voice too loud, go crazy.’’
At least not yet.
A scary time
It was back in January when Reeve, 47, decided to get back to working out. But, after just a few minutes of exercise, her legs started feeling heavy, tired. “I thought, ‘Well, if this doesn’t clear up in a couple weeks, I’ll do something,’ ” she said. “But I didn’t.’’
By February and into March, she started feeling tingling numbness in her toes, which she attributed to having sat wrong. Finally, on March 17, she went to Target Center for the news conference announcing a sponsorship with the Mayo Clinic. It was a long day and Reeve got home feeling exhausted. Finally, she got it checked out.
She had blood work done. She had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of her lower spine, which didn’t show much.
But: “At the top of the lumbar they could see part of the thoracic and see a mass there,” Reeve said. “They asked me to pop back over, get another MRI. And that afternoon, in the doctor’s office, we were planning surgery for a week later.’’
She had a meningioma, a tumor that develops in the meninges, the membranes that envelop the central nervous system, in her case on her spine. The good news: It was benign. The bad news: It had to be taken care of right away.
So get ready. “In some ways it’s good,” Reeve said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it.’’
The prognosis was a good one, but Reeve was still understandably scared. With the draft around the corner, she was mad at herself for not having checked it out sooner.
“I’d never had surgery before,” she said. “To say I wasn’t afraid would be admirable but not accurate. But I was confident it needed to happen. I didn’t have a choice.”
Her mother and two brothers flew in from the East Coast and she had surgery April 2.
A few days later, feeling better, she returned home seemingly on the road to recovery.
Back to the hospital
But not so fast. After just a few days home she started having excruciating back spasms. There were indications of an infection. So it was back to the hospital, this time for nine days. It was there the spasms were calmed, her numbers returned to normal. But not without setbacks.
One morning she felt a couple drips on her back. She called a nurse, who discovered a spinal fluid leak. It was sutured up, but Reeve was put back on flat bed rest, essentially pushed back to square one. On April 14, the night of the draft, Reeve kept in contact via Skype.
Later that week she returned home again. By late last week Reeve was doing some walking and planning camp with Patterson and Petersen in her Minneapolis home — camp that will be a little calmer than usual.
Her doctor had seen video of Reeve’s famous court-charging, jacket-throwing meltdown from the 2012 WNBA Finals. His advice: Don’t do that. Stay calm, ease into things, let your back heal.
Hence a new, quieter, mellower Cheryl Reeve has emerged. At least for a while.
It was noticeable in Sunday’s opening training camp practice, during which Reeve was engaged but relatively subdued.
“She’s intense and passionate, but her body can’t demonstrate that right now,” forward Maya Moore said. “She can’t really do the things she wants to do.’’
But she’s doing what she needs to do, which is take it slow.
“This is an important time for complete recovery,” she said. “It will be more limited in terms of physical activity. I won’t be in the middle of drills, won’t be as animated as I normally would be. I’m probably a month away from being able to do that.”