On Friday in Washington, going against the coach she first played for when she entered the WNBA in 2004, Lindsay Whalen will have the chance to become the winningest player in league history.
This isn’t huge news. The fact that Whalen has been stalking Swin Cash’s record for wins has been talked about for a while now; Michael Rand did a nice Q & A with Whalen over the weekend on this very topic.
But I felt it might be worth a revisit, just considering the success Whalen has had through the years. She currently stands tied with Cash for the most victories in the regular season at 294.
Here is an interesting numerical breakdown of Whalen’s career, winning-wise:
--She has played in 433 games, starting 422 of them. She came off the bench once in her rookie season at Connecticut in 2004 while playing for coach Mike Thibault.
--In those 433 games, Whalen – who played six seasons for Connecticut before coming to the Lynx in 2010 – has led teams that have compiled a 294-139 record when she played. That’s a 67.9 percent winning percentage.
--In her first 13 seasons Whalen has gone to the playoffs in 11 seasons. That includes two appearances in the finals for Connecticut and another five with the Lynx, winning three championships here in Minnesota. Two other seasons ended in the conference championships.
Tuesday Whalen and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve talked to the assembled media. Here is some of what they had to say:
Whalen, of course, credited the teams she played for. “I’ve been with some great teams and great coaches,’’ she said, referring to the Sun and Lynx and coaches Thibault and Reeve. Thibault, who will coach the Washington Mystics against the Lynx Friday, is the WNBA’s all-time leader in head coaching wins.
“It also means I’ve been around,’’ Whalen joked. “I said this the other day. Every time you show up you want to win. It’s a fun stat. There is a lot that goes into that, for sure. At the end of the day your goal is to win. To be tied with Swin, that’s some good company there. It shows a lot of good coaching, a lot of good teammates.’’
There is more to it than that. She has been the point guard – the on-court leader – for seven teams that made WNBA finals. This is no coincidence. And, of course, she helped drag the University of Minnesota Gophers out of the Big Ten basement into the NCAA Final Four during her time there.
“You have to build an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable in what you do,’’ Whalen said. “You have to have confidence in yourself and each other. You create a family atmosphere. You get to know ‘em on the court and off. You know where a player wants the ball in certain situations on the court. Also you know, post-game, what their favorite food is. We buy into that here. This is a really close team. That’s what we’ve built here. The most successful teams have found the balance with on-court chemistry and off the court. If you treat each other the right way, the stuff on the court then kind of comes together.’’
With so many wins there has to be a favorite, right? Asked about that Whalen pointed to Saturday’s win in Seattle because it was the most recent one. “And,’’ she said, “the next game is the most important game.’’
Reeve spoke at length about her point guard. She talked about Whalen’s competitive drive which, combined with a rare intelligence for the game and her hatred of losing provides a potent mix. “Whatever teams she’s been around, she’s been a common denominator for their success,’’ Reeve said. “Half of her career spent in the WNBA finals and half of those she’s winning championships, it’s unprecedented.’’
Well, not totally. Fellow Lynx teammate Rebekkah Brunson, who entered the league the same season that Whalen did, is currently tied with Tamika Catchings for fifth on the all-time win list at 263. Another win will push her alone into the top five. Brunson has also appeared in seven finals, winning four. She won one for Sacramento in 2005 against the Whalen-led Sun. Whalen and Brunson are the only active players in the top five.
But you get the point, pardon the pun. The point guard is the leader of a team. And Whalen has played the point in a boatload of wins.It will be interesting to see if she can move into the No. 1 spot alone against her old coach in Washington Friday.
“I’m thrilled that she’s about to be the person that’s No. 1 in all-time win total,’’ Reeve said. “Every year she’s played, she has put her team in position to be successful. Year-in and year-out. It’s very hard to do.’’
Said Whalen: “I’m able to appreciate it, know that that’s cool, but move onto the next game. It’s something you’ll be proud of for sure when you’re done.’’
Here is the list of top five players in wins. You’ll note that, of the top nine, four have Minnesota ties:
294 – Lindsay Whalen and Swin Cash.
291 – DeLisha Milton-Jones
286 – Tina Thompson
263 – Rebekkan Brunson and Tamika Catchings
254 – Taj McWilliams-Franklin
250 – Sue Bird and Katie Smith