Featured: Cheryl Reeve
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There is no speeding to the finish line at Minnesota Lynx practice. As time winds down each day the Lynx, practicing how to approach the final seconds of a game against their male practice squad, repeat the process time and time again until each scenario looks just right.
Inbounding the ball with 20 seconds, 15 seconds, 5 seconds left. No situation is left unattended because when you’re chasing a championship, like Minnesota won last year and is trying to repeat this summer, every scenario needs to be mapped out.
That’s the attention to detail coach Cheryl Reeve brings to her squad every single day, and it’s part of the reason why the Lynx have experienced so much growth and success over the past three years. On Friday in Phoenix, Reeve became the fourth fastest coach in WNBA history to reach 50 wins. She did so in 78 games, trailing Los Angeles’ Michael Cooper (57 games in 2000-01), Houston’s Van Chancellor (63 games in 1997-99) and Sacramento’s John Whisenant (77 games in 2003-05) on the WNBA’s all-time list.
She reached the milestone 11 games faster than Bill Laimbeer, for whom she was an assistant coach in Detroit from 2006-09.
Around the locker room, this is no surprise. Reeve and her coaching staff are all in every day, bringing the same intensity and passion to each moment of practice that they do to the sidelines on game days.
“She’s a player’s coach, so when you have someone like that in charge players want to play for her,” center Taj McWilliams-Franklin said. “When you have somebody who is going to go to bat for you all the time and they have your back, you’re going to play as hard as you can. And wins happen when you play hard.”
The Lynx play by a bottom line philosophy that mirrors the framework their head coach implemented when she took over in 2010. No one makes excuses, because excuses don’t help you improve. Instead, Minnesota comes to work each day with a very real sense of what needs to take place and what they need to do to make it happen.
It comes from a long tenure of coaching collegiately in the WNBA. Reeve has two decades of experience in the college and pro ranks and began her WNBA career in 2001 with the Charlotte Sting. In nine years as an assistant she compiled a .543 winning percentage, reached the WNBA Finals four times and won two titles in 2006 and 2008.
Reeve’s first season in Minnesota built a foundation for reaching championship contention. The team finished 13-21 but began molding itself into a new system and built around new pieces. It was guard Lindsay Whalen and forward Rebekkah Brunson’s first year on the team, and in the offseason prior to 2011 the Lynx picked up McWilliams-Franklin and drafted forward Maya Moore first overall.
Joining with the pieces already in place, the squad began to win and gain notoriety around the league. By the time it was over, the Lynx had a 27-7 regular season record and its first WNBA championship.
McWilliams-Franklin said a lot of that success has to do with Reeve’s ability to adapt to the players she has on her team, not forcing the players to adapt to her. Guard Seimone Augustus said the biggest asset Reeve brings to the franchise is her honesty about how to make the team’s goals a reality.
“Coach Reeve really doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, she tells you what you need to know as far as bettering this team,” Augustus said. “She tells you how teams win games and how we’re going to be a great team, how we’re going to win a championship, how we’re going to repeat. Sometimes it’s tough when you have a team this talented to keep them focused on the goal, and she does a great job of that.”
For Reeve, reaching the 50-win mark was not a big deal. She said the biggest thing to take away from the number is that the team has had success during that stretch. Winning games are the most important thing, she said.
That’s what makes the Lynx a special organization. There are bigger goals in mind for this season, and that’s where the group focuses its energy. There are no changes in philosophy or demeanor. From the start of training camp through the postseason, Minnesota has one goal in mind and is prepared to put the time in to make it happen.
It all starts with the head coach.
“I think what makes her special is she’s always the same,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “Maybe concepts have changed, which ever coach needs to change as the generations change and the talent is different each year, and she has. But in the core you never really change what you stand for. And I think her longevity is based in the fact that she knows what she wants to put on the floor as a product.”
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