HARTFORD, Conn. — As Crystal Dangerfield tied a bow on her college career this past season, Minnesota Lynx head coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve had her eye on UConn’s three-year starting point guard. Napheesa Collier made sure of it.
“Jokingly throughout the year, I’m (saying to Reeve), “Hey, Crystal is coming up,” said Collier, Dangerfield’s former teammate of three years in Storrs who just completed her first season in Minnesota, in a phone interview with The Courant.
Collier’s lobbying, of course, wasn’t the deciding factor for why the Lynx drafted Dangerfield with their second-round pick of Friday’s WNBA draft. But the end result doesn’t just serve as a gratifying reunion for the former Husky standouts. In fulfilling a big need for the Lynx, Dangerfield has a real shot at carving out a sizable role as a rookie in a place where UConn players have a good track record of being immensely valued.
With point guard Odyssey Sims missing at least part of the upcoming season due to pregnancy, the Lynx didn’t have a true point guard on their roster leading into the draft. Though Reeve floated the idea of trying a point guard-by-committee approach for the 2020 season, many still saw Minnesota as a logical landing spot for Dangerfield, who averaged roughly 15 points per game as a senior, has a lethal three-point shot and compiled just under 600 career assists in Storrs.
Minnesota added a front court piece in South Carolina’s Mikiah Herbert Harrigan with its first-round pick, and Reeve said she wasn’t necessarily expecting Dangerfield to be around by the time the team could make its next selection. But it worked out for all involved, with Reeve corralling a true playmaker who’s a threat from deep and strong on defense, and Dangerfield finding herself in a place where she has a chance to not just make the team but play a good amount right off the bat.
“I think I’ve found that with the Minnesota Lynx,” Dangerfield said Tuesday. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to, just going (to) training camp whenever that may be, earning my keep and earning some minutes.”
“Coach (Reeve) is really good with letting you show what you can do,” Collier added. “Because we don’t have that true point guard, (Dangerfield) is given an opportunity that maybe some other people don’t have. She’s needed on this team, but it depends on how she plays and if she proves herself and things like that. I have no doubt that she will.”
Dangerfield doesn’t just want to achieve individual success, either. She wants to be part of something bigger, something she knows a thing or two about after spending four years at UConn. She found Minnesota’s similarly high demands of excellence appealing and the results speak for themselves: The Lynx have won four WNBA titles (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017), the most of any active franchise.
“Anytime you’re looking at a winning culture, that’s attractive to you,” Dangerfield said. “Especially as a player, you’re competitive, you want to win. The standards are the same (with UConn and Minnesota). The coaching staff will be the same, (having) high standards and they’re going to push you beyond you to be the best version of yourself.
“I had talked with (former Lynx point guard) Renee (Montgomery), and she had expressed that Coach Reeve was going to be hard on point guards like Coach (Geno) Auriemma was so it won’t be anything too new.”
Dangerfield knows the jump to the pros won’t be easy and is ready to be “like a sponge,” learning from her older, more experienced teammates. But she expects that her experience at UConn will put her in a good position to push through the inevitable ups and down and “slowly but surely assert myself, because I do want a significant role.”
That UConn preparation for the pros is what made a difference for Collier, at least, and she thinks it will be similarly helpful for Dangerfield.
“I think it is pretty seamless for a lot of the UConn players because even though players are bigger and more experienced, the mentality that UConn players come in with is that of a professional,” Collier said. “Coach (Auriemma) prepares us so well for that in college, what you have to expect from yourself, self-accountability, playing through whatever … I think that’s why we have such an advantage when we come to the league because we already have that professional mentality.”
Reeve made it clear that Dangerfield will have to earn her minutes, but she has seen that readiness from former Huskies before, including most recently Collier, the Lynx’s 2019 No. 6 overall pick and reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year.
“It’s not going to be oversaid at any point in time how all of us enjoy players who play at UConn,” Reeve told reporters Friday. “They are plug-and-play players.”
With Collier by her side, Dangerfield won’t have to experience the thrills and challenges of her rookie season surrounded by all new people. Prior to the draft, Collier provided the Lynx coaching staff and players insight into what Dangerfield is like on and off the court. But she was also one of the first people to call Dangerfield after she was selected.
“Playing with ‘Phee again is going to be fun,” Dangerfield said. “She makes my job easier. I’ll try to make her job a little bit easier and help her out a little bit too.”
Collier couldn’t be more excited to pair back up with Dangerfield who, ironically, she’s known longer than her Lynx teammates. The two not only have an established connection on the floor, but she sees Dangerfield’s court vision and facilitating abilities as elements of her game that will translate to the next level.
Collier will be a support system for Dangerfield once training camp gets underway — after all, it wasn’t too long ago that she was in Dangerfield’s shoes, awaiting the start to her professional journey in Minnesota. As fulfilling as that rookie campaign was, she’s happy to have it behind her.
“It’s so nice not to be a rookie anymore,” Collier said. “It’s awesome because it’s amazing that you’ve gotten to that point, and I had such a fun rookie year, but no one wants to be a freshman forever. I paid my dues and I’m ready to let someone else be that now.
“Now it’s Crystal’s turn.”
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