From the start of training camp, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has made sure rookie first-round draft pick Mikiah Herbert Harrigan has been double-teamed.
Everywhere. On and off the court. In film sessions, in practice, Reeve has assistant coaches Rebekkah Brunson and Plenette Pierson working closely with the rookie.
Herbert Harrigan, the former South Carolina star, was the MVP of the SEC Conference tournament last spring before the coronavirus shut competition down. With the Lynx she is trying to come up to speed at the pro level. It’s never easy for any rookie. In college she made her name as an intense player – nicknamed “Mad Kiki’’ – who defended hard and blocked shots with abandon.
The best-case scenario would have Herbert Harrigan earning minutes as backup to power forward Damiris Dantas. But it will take work. The pace of play at the pro level is much faster. There is a playbook to learn, defensive concepts to master.
Hence the double-team.
“It’s been great working with them,’’ Herbert Harrigan said of Brunson and Pierson after practice in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday. “Watching film, knowing they’ve been in my position before. They’re both really smart, know a lot about the game.’’
Herbert Harrigan had a strong senior season with South Carolina, averaging 13.1 points with 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. She shot 50.3 percent overall, 44.4 percent on three-pointers for a team that went 32-1.
But in her first WNBA training camp the 6-2 forward is still learning.
Initially, her innate ability to help on defense and a nose for the ball has seen Herbert Harrigan blocking shots all over the place in practice, according to Reeve. But there is work to be done.
“She has to have another gear,’’ Reeve said.
That’s where Brunson and Pierson come in. Two of the most intense – and, at times, combative – players of their era, Pierson won three WNBA championships, Brunson five. Brunson retired as the leading rebounder in WNBA history.
Their job is not only to teach Herbert Harrigan, but to prod her, too.
“I told her what’s better for our team is Mad Kiki rather than Mad Cheryl,’’ Reeve joked. “She responds well to getting riled up, challenged. Plenette has done really well in talking to her, and getting her to that place. She needs motivation, someone to kind of poke her a little bit.’’
So far Herbert Harrigan’s athletic ability has proven to be elite. It is Pierson and Brunson’s job to pair that with knowledge. “If they accelerate her growth, she can help us sooner,’’ Reeve said.
She is in a good place. She has mentors in her assistant coaches. In center Sylvia Fowles – Herbert Harrigan played for Fowles’ AAU team growing up – she has someone she can talk to. “It’s surreal to me,’’ she said. “I grew up looking up to her, and now we’re playing on the same team.’’