Napheesa Collier has been back in Minneapolis for almost a week. Healthy, ready, her season in France finally ended …
"It was really hard,'' Collier said Saturday after her first practice with the Lynx this season. "I wish I could have been out there.''
Late arrivals from Europe have hurt many teams. In that the Lynx aren't alone. And coach Cheryl Reeve isn't willing to pin her team's 0-3 start solely on not having her All-Star player. But now she's back — having tested negative for COVID-19 six straight days — and Reeve's roster is finally whole.
"To be so close and not to be able to play with the team is really hard,'' Collier said again. "But today felt great being back on the court and being around them more.''
Having just finished her season in France, Collier is in game shape. Already in one practice Reeve could see things — Reeve calls them "Phee things'' — that already make the team better. The Lynx have a week off between consecutive games with Seattle, a team that came back from 15 down at halftime to beat Minnesota at Target Center on Thursday. The Lynx now have a week to integrate Collier into a lineup that includes newcomers Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers.
It is a break Reeve called "gold.'' And it's a process, she said, that won't take long.
"Like, no time,'' she said. "The game is so simple for Phee. And she's going to make those guys look good.''
Reeve said Collier's impact goes beyond her basketball skills. Her nonstop effort will push the team.
"I know Phee will take it upon herself to be a leader, in terms of the effort areas, the things it takes to win possessions and win games. I think we've missed that at times. We talk about multiple efforts, sometimes it's sprinting back and breaking up a transition play. Phee has that will and that play is contagious.''
Collier said the process of getting on the same page starts with her; the rest of the team has been together for a while. She had a hard time watching Minnesota's loss to New York, but said she was encouraged by the progress made against Seattle. Saturday, she said, was another step.
"They're obviously such good players,'' she said of McBride and Powers. "And I think we got to work on a lot of good stuff today. It was really cool to see them in action in practice rather than just in games, because both of them I've only seen them in games when we were playing against them.''
Collier said she studied her new teammates from afar while serving her quarantine. Now it's a matter of getting to the point where she knows what each player's strengths are on the court. "So it's trying to cut down that learning curve as much as you can,'' Collier said. "Because we're already in season. I'm trying to learn as far as I can.''
One of the league's best two-way players, Collier was ranked by ESPN as a top-five player in its WNBA season preview. But again, Reeve said, Collier's impact will go beyond her three-point shot, her movement without the ball, her defensive prowess.
"Phee never stops moving,'' Reeve said. "You talk about effort, that's what the great ones do. There is a fine line between winning and losing, between good teams vs. great teams. What do they have? Players willing to give maximum effort at all times. And they accept nothing less than that.''