Lindsay Whalen could see it happening, see the parts fitting together so well, feel the chemistry forming.
It was Lynx training camp, 2011.
“I remember it was the best training camp any of us ever had,” Whalen said after practice Thursday. “That’s when it really started.”
Saturday the Lynx will host Connecticut at Xcel Energy Center. It will be an opportunity for Minnesota to improve to 10-0, which would be the third time in six seasons the Lynx have started a season with 10 or more wins. It will also be an opportunity for Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson to win their 121st game together as a quartet, which would move them into a tie with the Los Angeles Sparks foursome of Lisa Leslie, Tamecka Dixon, Mwadi Mabika and DeLisha Milton-Jones.
Augustus was here first, coming to Minnesota in 2006. Over her first four seasons she scored tons of points but never sniffed the playoffs. Coach Cheryl Reeve got here in 2010, as did Whalen (via trade) and Brunson (via dispersal draft). There were promising signs that summer, but Augustus’ health issues ultimately led to another losing season.
That changed a year later. The Lynx won the draft lottery that year, took Moore with the first overall pick and the core was set.
“It was 2011 training camp when our identity was born,” Reeve said.
Since then, of course, the Lynx have appeared in the finals five of six seasons, winning three titles. The supporting cast has changed over time. The Lynx have won three titles with three starting centers — in 2011 with veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin, in 2013 with Janel McCarville and in 2015 with Sylvia Fowles.
But the core of four hasn’t changed.
“You could tell the vibe,” Augustus said of that 2011 training camp. “Once we got into a rhythm of knowing where everyone wanted to be on the floor, what everyone liked, the practices were so competitive. It just started to happen. By midseason, there was no turning back. This wasn’t the Lynx team people had known.”
What makes them click?
So why does it work so well?
At the start, it was because everyone wanted to win, and nobody cared how the team did it. Reeve said this week that after the Lynx won the lottery and it became clear Moore would be drafted, Augustus started getting calls from other teams.
“She got calls from people, it was tampering,” Reeve said. “They were saying, ‘Time to go, here comes Maya.’ And Seimone was like, ‘Why would I leave now?’ ”
The point is Augustus wanted to win. They all did.
“You had the highest level of competitors joining forces at the same time,” Brunson said. “We were willing to sacrifice whatever it took to win. When you get that, good things happen. We’re not just teammates, we’re friends. Family.”
Veteran center McWilliams-Franklin, also added in 2011, had a lot to do with the group coming together. She encouraged Augustus, Whalen and Brunson to be more willing leaders.
And the team started to win. A lot.
With McWilliams-Franklin and McCarville, the Lynx offense often depended on a good-passing center in the high post feeding the ball to players cutting to the hoop. As Fowles has grown more dominant, the offense has changed to an inside-out game that depends more on spacing and ball movement.
“We enjoy what we’ve built here,” Whalen said. “And we have a really good mix of personalities. The one thing we all have in common is we’re good people and good teammates. It helps that we can play some good basketball, too.”
What amazes Moore is how seamlessly they work together.
“We are each comfortable with our strengths and how they complement each other,” Moore said. “It’s the professionalism of B [Brunson], the passion that Whalen has brought every year she’s been here, to be our emotional leader, Mone’s consistency and killer instinct. I come in with just my determination to just win, whatever it takes. We enjoy this.
“I feel like we’re at a point where we could be as good as ever. The four of us, and Syl? We’re reaching our potential as a group.”