Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx Adjusting to New Virtual Reality Ahead of 2020 Season

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

We certainly are going through an unprecedented time in the United States and around the globe.

While the world continues to fight the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, many sports leagues throughout the country have been put on pause with an unknown date for when — or even if — their sport will resume for the 2020 season.

Although its season hasn’t officially begun just yet, the WNBA has joined other leagues in holding a level of uncertainty regarding tipping off the upcoming year.

A few weeks ago, the WNBA announced it was postponing the start of training camp — which was originally slated to begin in late April — as well as the start of the regular-season schedule previously scheduled for May 15 due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

It’s just another wrinkle thrown into the mix of what has become an unfortunate reality for all 12 teams in the WNBA.

“The broadest answer is that we just simply don’t know when we are going to be able to start up. It would be irresponsible for me to say that there was some sort of start date that the league has in mind, there simply is not. I would say there is more hope around being able to play a 2020 season,” Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said in a virtual conference call Tuesday. “The NBA season, they have to simply end their season and get to the playoffs, whereas we have a full season.

“What I have felt from the leadership at the league level is a conviction around having a season. They are steadfast on that it will happen. We don’t know what’s happening two months from now. We know we are postponed, that wasn’t a surprise to anybody. When we are going to start up? We simply don’t know.”

Connecting virtually

When it comes to the Lynx, they are starting to try and get used to the new reality of this offseason and the delayed start of the 2020 regular season.

One key aspect to trying to keep everything as normal as possible has become their ability to connect with each other virtually.

“We do a lot of remote work anyway. When you think about our staff, when the season ends, our staff is in different parts of the country. We try to bring all that information and data into one place,” Reeve said on Tuesday. “It has now become absolutely vital in what we are doing to be able to have real-time interaction. The interpersonal conversations are what we all miss. When you’re making decisions, it’s hard to look at a computer.”

Reeve said the last time she had to deal with communicating and making important decisions virtually was in 2014, when she had to be video-conferenced into meetings on draft day while coming off of a hospital visit that resulted in her being on 24-hour bed rest.

“(Former Lynx general manager) Roger (Griffith) will tell you, it was miserable. It’s just not the same. This is even a step farther in that it’s all of us. It’s everybody,” Reeve said. “I messaged (WNBA commissioner) Cathy Engelbert and said ‘may your bandwidth be plentiful.’ It’s challenging, no doubt about it. … I would much rather be in-person, but we are where we are.”

Continuing to prep for the season

Even with the 2020 campaign and its start time in question, the preparation for the year continues to take place for Minnesota.

The next step and event this offseason for the Lynx and the rest of the WNBA is the 2020 Draft, which is still scheduled to take place Friday in a first-ever virtual format. The league will hold the draft, which will air at 6 p.m. central on ESPN, without players, guests or media members in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engelbert will announce the draft picks live on ESPN with top prospects participating in the event remotely. Minnesota currently holds the Nos. 6 and 16 picks in the first two rounds of the three-round WNBA Draft.

“Safeguarding the health and well-being of our prospects, players, employees and everyone connected to our game as well as the general public is paramount,” Engelbert said in a statement made by the WNBA on the upcoming draft. “With that in mind, we will work diligently with our broadcast partner, ESPN, to create a memorable but virtual event that appropriately honors these accomplished athletes.”

The draft continuing to take place is another reminder to Reeve and the Lynx that they have to continue to operate and prepare as if it were a normal offseason. Players, the front office and everyone else in the organization must stay ready for when a green light on the season is eventually given.

“It’s a tough balance right now. I have mostly communicated in my typical way which is messaging and some occasional phone calls with leadership and players,” Reeve said. “I know (the players) are communicating pretty regularly. What we are doing is from more of a physical preparation standpoint. Our training staff, performance enhancement component, our nutrition component, there’s communications with the players there and we are moving towards using some video opportunities there. We want to take advantage of the extra time we have to work on some things and target those things.

“It’s been hard on everybody. This is just weird. It’s obviously unprecedented and we’re figuring out how to best navigate it.”

Part of the preparation from the players’ standpoint has been working out on their own and finding any way they can to try and stay ready for the year.

Reeve mentioned players such as Karima Christmas-Kelly and Rachel Banham were working out at the team’s practice facility until they shut down those workouts a few weeks ago. Other players such as Lexie Brown is currently down south where she is able to get outside and work out, while Napheesa Collier has a church close by her that she has been able to utilize.

“Everyone is dealing with it differently. They are trying to find their spot that they can get a ball in their hands and work on some things. It’s challenging to be sort of on your own doing these things. You just find a way,” Reeve said. “We are providing them assistance and we are giving them as much as we can. … The struggle is real, but it takes great discipline and commitment to figure it out and I’m hopeful that all of our players are of that same mindset.”

In a world currently filled with uncertainty, the Lynx and the rest of the WNBA are also experiencing a level of unknown this offseason. But the reality they are all dealt with right now is the offseason will continue to roll along, just in a rare virtual format for the time being.

“It’s been difficult in communicating with the players to say you just have to be ready. We have to be ready as a staff and we have to help prepare them. … We will do all that we can to sort of maximize the time so that when it’s go time and we are going to have to go in a hurry, they are in shape and ready to hit the ground running. That’s all of our jobs.

“We are all looking for normalcy and getting back to our schedules. We just have no way of answering that.”

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