When she walked onto the court Monday morning for her first Lynx practice, Anna Cruz was new to the team, but she was no stranger.
Cruz, a Spanish guard with extensive international experience, was acquired by the Lynx from the New York Liberty on draft day. But she didn’t get to Minnesota until Sunday, after her commitment to the Spanish National Team at the EuroBasket Tournament had ended. She joined a Lynx team that had eagerly anticipated her, because everyone knew exactly what they were getting.
For Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, it started last season when Cruz was playing in her first WNBA season with New York. She saw a tenacious defender who was giving Lynx starter Lindsay Whalen all she could handle. “Anybody who gives Lindsay a difficult time catches your eye,” Reeve said.
It continued at last year’s FIBA world championship when Reeve, an assistant for Team USA, had the job of scouting the Spanish team.
“She is a fierce competitor,” said Whalen, who has also played against Cruz in Europe. “She gives us another defender, someone we can trust. We’re excited to get her here.”
The feeling goes both ways. Cruz said she was thinking of taking the summer — WNBA season — off. That was, until the trade brought her to the Lynx. “They called me and I was, ‘OK, why not?’ ”
The minute the veteran Cruz joined the team a number of players got better, at least on paper. Whalen, because, with a true veteran backup at the point, might not need to play so many minutes. Monica Wright, because she won’t have to play out of position backing Whalen up and can focus on her natural strength at off guard and small forward.
Cruz averaged 7.7 points, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals for the Liberty last season, starting all 34 games. She has a flow to her game, excels at a high tempo, is creative in getting others involved. Sounds a little bit like another Spanish point guard playing in Minnesota.
And she’s smart. Reeve and the coaching staff threw more than 90 percent of the playbook at her upon her arrival. During a mid-practice spot quiz, there was only one play Cruz didn’t know.
But it’s defense where fans might notice Cruz first. Reeve can hardly wait to see her picking up the ball early and hounding opposing guards. “There isn’t a coach in the country at any level that doesn’t like a player who gets up and applies ball pressure,” Reeve said. “We’re looking forward to that.”
Which is why Cruz figures to be the first player off the bench when the Lynx play Friday in Chicago. Whalen is usually the first starter to get subbed out, and Reeve feels Cruz is ready to go.
“I know this is a good team,” Cruz said. “I’m here to try to do my best, help the team. I know I’m late. They already played 10 games. I’m going to try to adjust as soon as I can.”