After months of talks and weeks of waiting and hoping, Sylvia Fowles finally made it to Minnesota. So, late in July, with Fowles about to put on a Lynx jersey for her first practice, she sat down with coach Cheryl Reeve for an extended talk.
"I wanted to get a feel for her," Reeve said of her new 6-6 center, a three-time WNBA All-Star, two-time league defensive player of the year and an Olympic gold medal holder who sat out the first half the season rather than play anywhere else. "And I wanted to make sure she knew what she was getting into."
"I can be intense," Reeve said. "You know I'm a little crazy and can be hard on players." Then she asked Fowles a question: "I said, 'So if I yell at you, are you going to cry?' " Reeve said. "And she said, 'No, I'm not going to cry. But you can't get mad at me if I laugh.' "
Reeve said that first meeting encapsulates the Fowles she has gotten to know. A star who would rather be critiqued than praised. Someone who craves structure and instruction. Someone who is so happy to be here that she can smile in the face of, well, an irate Cheryl Reeve.
"I like it when coach gets on me," Fowles said.
She is a former college teammate of Seimone Augustus at LSU — they went to two Final Fours together — who came to Minnesota from Chicago in a three-team trade that happened just after the All-Star Game.
"Not too many coaches can go after good players," Fowles said, "and say, 'You're not doing A, B and C.' She doesn't always credit the good, but she points out the bad. That's something you can take to heart. Because that's something I was missing the last few years."
Happy? Fowles' teammates are amazed at how upbeat she is. Even now, weeks after joining the team, Fowles runs at top speed when coaches call to her. After the team had done some post-practice stretching Wednesday, Fowles helped the training staff pick up stretching bands.
"She is excited to see you every time," Reeve said. "I mean, every time."
And, just so you know: Reeve hasn't had much cause to yell at Fowles.
Fowles has scored in double figures in all 18 games with the Lynx, is second on the team in scoring (15.3) and first in rebounding (8.3). She has recorded double-doubles in those categories in seven of her past 10 games.
Fowles and Maya Moore have been rocks in a season in which the Lynx were riddled with injuries.
Still, her addition took some getting used to. Under Reeve, the Lynx have never had a true low-post center. They used Taj McWilliams-Franklin and then Janel McCarville in the high post, using their passing skills to get points in the paint by posting up the guards.
Adding Fowles to the mix was a radical change in offensive philosophy, one that took a while to adjust to. But it's getting there. Her teammates are learning where Fowles likes the ball. Fowles is learning when and where to kick it back out. Of course, the connection between Fowles and Augustus was there right away. In practice this week, Moore could see that.
"Syl had a post-up, and Seimone found her," Moore said. "Syl was doubled, so she kicked it back to Mone, who hit the big shot."
Now, with the Lynx healthy, the team appears ready for a playoff run.
"I think getting Sylvia was a huge addition for this team," Indiana coach Stephanie White said. "Few can handle her one-on-one inside."
A single goal
Fowles had wanted to be in Minnesota for several years. Even after her rookie season in 2008, she wanted to leave Chicago because she felt she wasn't in a system that was making her better.
Finally, after her most recent contract expired, she made it clear she wanted to go to the Lynx. She knew Augustus well, and Moore and Whalen from the U.S. national team. "Other people had gotten better, but didn't feel I had grown," Fowles said. "I needed to go somewhere where I could be pushed, where I could have the proper coaching, have teammates all on the same page."
So she didn't play for the first half of the season as the Lynx worked to get her.
Once in Minnesota, Fowles has grown close to Lynx assistant Jim Petersen, a former NBA post player. She has reveled in being part of a team with such focused — and successful — teammates. She has thrived under Reeve's system.
"Everybody has a role here," Fowles said. "Reeve picks out something specific she wants every player to do and that makes my world a whole lot easier."
And now she wants what her fellow starters already have: a WNBA title. A couple years ago, Augustus saw the joy Whalen and McCarville had as former Gophers college teammates reunited for a title run. Now it's her turn.
"She's my teammate, she's my friend," Augustus said. "That would be the cherry on top of the cake.''