Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve isn’t worried about testing Napheesa Collier’s limits. If anything, Reeve thinks the rookie may have it easy.
After all, she did spend the past four years being coached by Geno Auriemma at UConn.
“I appreciate that Geno pushed her so hard, because I think I look easy compared to him,” Reeve said with a laugh.
That was part of the appeal in taking Collier sixth overall in April’s draft. A standout career and senior season — which saw her average 20.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in helping the Huskies to their 12th consecutive Final Four berth — made her nearly impossible to pass on. The pedigree didn’t hurt, either.
Now 14 games into her professional career, Collier is averaging 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds — third and second respectively on the Lynx, who sit fourth in the league at 8-6. Her scoring is second in the league among rookies behind Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale, a Notre Dame alum picked fifth overall. In the most recent All-Star voting returns, Collier had the ninth most votes.
That transition for Collier has appeared reasonably seamless, as she’s started from day one for Reeve and Minnesota, and helped fill a void on offense left by Maya Moore, who announced in February she would sit out this season to focus on her personal life. Collier credits her experience at UConn.
“The expectation that coach had for us at school is the same as coach Reeve does,” Collier said. “Just having that for the past four years, it was an easy transition, expecting the best from myself and my teammates.”
With UConn, she lost just five games in four years. With the Lynx, she has already lost six.
“It’s hard, because it’s not something I’m used to,” Collier said of losing. “It’s not something I’ve done in some time. But there’s a lot that you can learn from it. You can learn a lot more from a loss than a win. Obviously, you’d rather win. But just seeing that every team is really good, and if you don’t bring your A game every single night, you could lose.”
Ideally, Minnesota hopes Collier can help set a standard for winning in Minnesota.
“That’s the appeal of drafting a player from certain schools,” Reeve said. “You know there’s a standard. There’s that mediocrity thing that people get really comfortable with, so when you have a player that is constantly achieving way above, it’s an easy fit.”
This isn’t Reeve’s first go-around coaching Collier. She had the opportunity to watch Collier play at the 2018 USA World Cup team training camp, where she averaged 5.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, as her team went 5-0.
It served, essentially, as advanced scouting for Reeve.
“The amount of time that we spent together for a month, you learn so much about them,” Reeve said. “You get to meet their families, and who’s close to them, and then the basketball side of it … you’re in the trenches. You’re seeing how they act in timeouts. You see how they respond to mistakes. Invaluable, for sure.”
Reeve understands Collier still has developing to do — the mental side of it being the hardest part — but described Collier as “unfazed” by her first season. Reeve said she believes Collier still needs to improve when it comes to defending smaller guards.
Reeve is pleased with Collier’s ability to understand what it takes to win a possession, how to play off the ball and where to be on defense.
“Those things come natural to her,” Reeve said.
She worries a bit about the workload — 32.9 minutes per game and multiple outings per week — though she noted that they practice significantly less than a college team, and given the circumstances, she needs Collier to be on the floor for each of those minutes.
So far, no complaints for Collier, as she approaches the midpoint of her first season.
“I think the experience just of playing has helped a lot, especially when you play teams for the second time,” Collier said. “You’re a lot more comfortable. You know them a little better. I definitely feel like I’m adjusting a lot better, more than I was in the beginning.”
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