Too fast, if you ask me, Sylvia Fowles said.
Fowles, the Lynx’s 34-year-old future Hall of Fame center, had just finished a practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and she was talking about how different things appear when she looks at the court these days.
Five years ago, Fowles held out for half a season to force a trade to the Lynx, coming to Minnesota from Chicago in time to help lead the Lynx to the WNBA title and be named the finals MVP.
She wanted desperately to play with Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus, alongside Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson. And she did.
In 2015, Fowles was the second-youngest Lynx starter. On Sunday, she will open her 13th WNBA season as the only Lynx starter over 30. Today Fowles — nicknamed “Mama Syl’’ — finds herself pushing Napheesa Collier and Damiris Dantas, helping rookie Mikiah “Kiki’’ Herbert Harrigan.
Five years, a new generation.
“I was not expecting to go from that in 2015 to this in 2020,’’ Fowles said by phone. “A lot has changed. And dramatically, too. But I’m happy where I’m at. Happy with my new leadership role.’’
A storied career
In her first 12 seasons, Fowles checked nearly every box. A brief by-the-numbers: seven times on the WNBA all-defensive team, six times an All Star, league MVP in 2017, finals MVP in 2015 and 2017.
It should take only a few games this season for Fowles to become the league’s all-time rebounding leader; with 3,332, she is 24 behind Brunson. Fowles is 17th in league history in points, fourth in blocks, and first in career field goal percentage.
She has won two WNBA titles and three Olympic gold medals.
So what could possibly be left on Fowles’ basketball bucket list?
“I have to pay it forward,’’ she said.
Fowles knows the Lynx are still in a rebuilding stage, much like they were last year. A year ago, with the run of four titles in seven years over and the Lynx roster turning over, coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve offered to trade Fowles to a contender.
No, she said. There is work to do here.
She still feels that way. More so, actually.
“If we’re rebuilding, I want to be a part of that,’’ Fowles said. “I want to teach younger players what it means to be committed. How it looks when you work hard. Getting through the good, but the bad and ugly, too.’’
This is a work in progress. Fowles has always been a leader by example, but Reeve started pushing her to be more vocal last year, with mixed results.
“It was a challenge for her,’’ Reeve said. “She was standing there, more exposed. It was a challenge for her to focus on things others had always taken care of.’’
This year? Progress. Fowles will stop a practice now to put someone in the right position. A player not going hard will hear it.
“I’m out of my element there,’’ Fowles admitted. “Preaching during practice can be draining. But we have young players who need me.’’
Fowles has to be pushed to admit it, but there is another item on that bucket list: finishing her career strong. Really strong. She is not ready to fade to the background, not yet.
She reported to camp in what Reeve says is the best shape she’s been in as a Lynx player, easily the best-conditioned player on a team full of 20-somethings.
“It’s scary how good she looks,’’ Reeve said.
Said Collier: “Amazing, really. You’d never know she’s 34. Sprinting the floor, strong as ever in the post.’’
Fowles worked out hard this offseason, ate better and became a Pilates devotee.
“Gotta finish strong,’’ she said. “Don’t look sluggish. Maybe I’m a step slower, but you won’t beat me. That’s something I think about, a lot.’’
Reeve is doing her part. By her own admission, she fielded a team last year that wasn’t really Fowles-friendly. Not enough three-point shooting challenged the team’s spacing and allowed opponents to pack the paint on Fowles.
Her 58.8 shooting percentage was her lowest in four years, her 9.9 attempts per game the lowest in three seasons.
Reeve has added three-point shooting in Rachel Banham and Shenise Johnson and expects Lexie Brown’s minutes and threes to rise. Opponents will still likely focus on Fowles, but this year they might have to pay for it. And if Fowles finds more space?
“I would not be surprised if she was an MVP candidate this year,’’ Reeve said. “It won’t be easy; teams will still focus on her. But I think she’s better positioned to be dominant.’’
If she is, it’d be like the old saying about how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
But Fowles knows it’s different.
“I came to play with Whay, Becky, Maya and Seimone,’’ she said.
And now she’s mentoring Kiki, Phee, Damiris and Lexie.
“This team is good,’’ she said. “We have some things to work through. But we’re going to be all right.’’