Natalie Achonwa, on a Zoom call talking about her decision to sign with the Lynx, was talking about last summer in the WNBA bubble in Florida.
Kayla McBride talked about this, too, in her call Tuesday — about seeing how the Lynx operated and acted toward each other being a factor in her decision to come here.
But Achonwa had a slightly different memory.
She and her Indiana teammates were getting ready for a game in a big gym where locker rooms were just temporary walls. Voices carried. Next door the Lynx were at halftime, and coach Cheryl Reeve was … animated.
"Everyone on our team was listening and going, 'Coach Reeve is mad,' " Achonwa said. "But I was listening to what she was saying, and in my head I was going, 'Go Coach!' She was trying to light a fire under her team. She was passionate when she spoke. That resonated with me. Coach won't let you give up on a play, she wants to win every possession. That was motivating."
Achonwa remembered that when the Lynx came calling in free agency. She and McBride played together at Notre Dame for coach Muffet McGraw. Like McBride, Achonwa has never won a WNBA title, and she thinks she's joining a team whose added depth in free agency can take a team that made the league semifinals last year to another level.
And she wanted to play for a coach as passionate — and vocal — as she is.
"There was no question in my mind," Achonwa said. "No question this was the fit for me. On the court, off the court. I can't wait to get to this summer, where I can really compete. I can bring the leadership, that tenacity, that grit I play with to an already tremendous team, bring that championship back to Minnesota."
The 6-4 Achonwa will be part of a frontcourt rotation, playing behind center Sylvia Fowles and forward Damiris Dantas. Reeve wants to reduce minutes for both of those players.
Reeve has compared Achonwa to Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the center on the Lynx's first title team in 2011. She was a player who cared more about winning than stats, more about good possessions than her own scoring. Achonwa said she is, too.
"I love to share the ball," she said. "To see a play ahead. I love to make a pass or set a great screen, a lot of things that don't show up on a stat sheet. On defense? Well, other than practice, I'm glad I don't have to guard Syl anymore."
Reeve said she heard one common theme when asking around about Achonwa. "Everyone I spoke with talked about it," she said. "Not that she's a pretty smart player, but that she's the smartest player I've ever been around. Kayla told me that, too. Coach McGraw told me that, how she sees things before anyone else."
What Achonwa sees is a perfect fit. Also like McWilliams-Franklin, Reeve knows her newest post player is someone who holds teammates accountable. When they were talking in free agency, Achonwa asked about that.
"I asked her, 'I've heard so many things about how nice everyone is,' " Achonwa said. "Mind you, I'm a nice person. But I come off harsh and blunt sometimes. That was my question. How can I lead, embed myself in a team that's so cohesive?"
Not to worry.
"[Reeve] said the team is looking for that," Achonwa said.