In this case, Napheesa Collier was the official recruiter.

The Lynx star talked with coach Cheryl Reeve about spring's WNBA free agency and had one suggestion: Get Alanna Smith.

Collier played against Smith, an Australian and former Stanford star, in Chicago last year. Collier knew how tough Smith was to play against, how good her positioning was, how well she defended the rim.

Collier and Smith were playing overseas in Turkey. Collier, being as proactive off the court as she is on it, got the Lynx's recruiting pitch, called Smith and said let's have dinner.

They did.

"We ended up staying there for three hours," Collier said. "And talking forever. It was awesome."

It could be.

The Lynx — with back-to-back victories over Seattle to start the season — travel to Connecticut to play the Sun on Thursday. The game will pit undefeated teams and the newly minted Western and Eastern Conference players of the week in Collier and Alyssa Thomas.

The Lynx enter the game with the best defensive rating in the league (84.0). After they finished 10th in the league in the same stat last year (105.5) — the first Reeve-coached Lynx team to finish in the bottom third of the league in that area — many of the changes made were directed toward defensive improvement. Defense was a focus from the first day of training camp. Courtney Williams, who also played for Chicago last season, and Natisha Hiedeman were acquired to provide on-ball pressure.

Smith was signed to provide a 6-4 rim protector.

She's done that, and more. She is first in the league in blocked shots (5.0) and has made five of seven three-pointers in two Lynx victories. She also has four steals and has averaged 6.5 rebounds per game while scoring 38 points.

More of a wall-up defender than a shot-swatter, Smith — playing true center for the first time in her WNBA career — has proved particularly adept at help defense. Reeve noted after the Seattle win how much — and how quickly — Smith and Collier were on the same page in that regard.

Collier went a step farther. When describing Smith's reliability on defense, Collier compared her to Sylvia Fowles, the former Lynx star center and league defensive player of the year.

"That's how it was with Syl," Collier said. "Just knowing someone is going to have your back every time there. … To have that veteran presence has been awesome. Doesn't everybody aspire to be like Sylvia Fowles?"

Journey to success

Smith just wanted the chance to be herself.

Drafted by Phoenix out of Stanford, she played behind Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner and appeared in only 55 games over three seasons. She was with Indiana in 2022 but was cut after nine games. It was then she thought the WNBA just wasn't going to work.

Far away from home, she couldn't wait around to see if there were any 10-day contracts in the offing. Disappointed, she went back to Australia.

"I'm like, 'Maybe this league isn't for me,'" she said.

Then she played in the offseason in Poland and was noticed by then-Chicago coach James Wade, who signed her for the Sky for 2023.

It was a breakthrough season. Playing in 38 games and starting 35, she averaged 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and finished third in Most Improved Player voting.

For Smith, it was less a revelation than a confirmation.

"Since I was drafted I knew I could have an impact in this league," she said. "But it's a difficult league to break into, to just get a spot on a roster. But then I went to Poland, and had an amazing season. It lit a fire under me."

Early returns promising

Two games is too small a sample size. But Reeve could see the synergy between Smith and Collier early in camp. The two seem to see the game the same way.

Smith isn't new to Reeve's radar. If Collier hadn't dropped to them at pick six in 2019, the Lynx would have drafted Smith.

"It's not uncommon, in year four or five, that players start to mature," Reeve said. "It's about opportunity. I look at her as though she's really in her first five years, development-wise."

Smith said she never doubted her ability, only questioned whether she'd get the opportunity. She got it in Chicago last year.

"People were surprised," Smith said. " 'You must have done so much work on the offseason.' I was like, 'To be honest with you, I've always been doing this.'"

Now she's doing more. Playing center, for example, which has been a physical challenge. Shooting more three-pointers, giving the Lynx a stretch five who can give Collier more space. To come: more passing from the high post, something Reeve's offense can always exploit. When all-rookie team center Dorka Juhász returns from Europe, the Lynx post position will be even deeper.

"Obviously you improve as the years go on," Smith said. "But I haven't drastically changed as a player. It's opportunity, and if the system works for you. And I think Cheryl's system works really well for me."