New Faces, Same Goals In Camp For Defending Champion Lynx
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The general consensus as the Lynx opened training camp on Sunday was that even though the team is coming off a WNBA title, the Xs and Os are still the same. The players understand there is a new challenge to repeat, and in order to do that they need to bring an even higher level of intensity to reach their new expectations.
Still, when coach Cheryl Reeve told the returning players to step into the circle at center court to be recognized as champions, the feeling was completely unfamiliar.
“It’s weird, because I’ve never defended a championship,” guard Candice Wiggins said. “There is so much pressure on you, but at the same time it’s kind of fun. I think it’s been about 10 years since a team repeated, so we’ve got another goal.”
The last team to repeat as WNBA champions was the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks, and that’s the new goal the Lynx brought with them to LifeTime Fitness Training Center on Sunday to begin camp. Eleven of the 18 players invited to training camp were on hand—Minnesota was missing roster staples Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Rebekkah Brunson and Amber Harris as well as rookie Tavelyn James, who was at her college graduation at Eastern Michigan.
What that left were seven rookies and offseason addition Erin Thorn making up eight of the 11 players on hand to start camp. Reeve said those who were present got extra repetitions and chances to get acquainted with the speed of the WNBA game.
“It’s a great time for them,” Reeve said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to get their feet under them and really gain some momentum. When [the starters] do get here, they’re better able to compete with them. It will be really interesting to see how they evolve this week.”
The remainder of the starters will begin returning as early as May 2. Everyone is expected to be in camp by Media Day on May 7 with the exception of McWilliams-Franklin.
For those on hand, Reeve said it was a typical first practice. Effort was ahead of execution, and the defense was ahead of the offense’s crispness. Rookie Devereaux Peters, selected third overall from Notre Dame, said the team inserted a lot of plays on Day 1 and will require a lot of studying tonight.
But Peters said after two weeks of anticipation it was fun to get on the court. Reeve said Peters started camp showing the type of seamless transition she expected coming from the college game.
“But I also know she’s a rookie and you sometimes get that deer in the headlights because you’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Reeve said. “I thought if she was nervous, it didn’t show. I asked her to be herself, and I thought she did that. The first day was as good as I thought it could go.”
Assistant coach Jim Petersen said rookies like center Jasmine Lee, guard/forward Julie Wojta and forward Kayla Standish also stood out among the group. Thorn, who signed as a free agent in February, also showed off her 3-point ability after practice. She shot 39.5 precent from behind the arc last year.
Petersen said the early part of camp is important because it gives the coaching staff a chance to see what works and what needs to be changed. Even as the defending champions, there are things that need to be adjusted.
“I think our mindset as a coaching staff is we’re coming back as the slate is clean. We haven’t done anything,” Petersen said. “I think our players will, too. I think we’ll all come back hungry. As a coaching staff, we worked super hard in the offseason and just as hard as we did last year. The benefit is we all know each other. Now when we see each other, we see each other as champions, which I think builds confidence and the familiarity we have with each other.”
Wiggins said though the team missed the starters on Day 1, it gave the bench players a chance to set the tone of camp and get in some early preparation. That way, everyone will be ready to go once the full roster is back.
“The bench players, we know we kind of have our own identity,” Wiggins said.
Veterans like Wiggins had the opportunity to set that tone for the rookies in camp on Sunday.
“The reserve players take a lot of pride in not feeling like reserve players,” Wiggins said. “We feel like we’re all starters. So it was a good day in that regard. Kind of got to experience some leadership, but we definitely missed everybody.”
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