After months of uncertainty as to if or even when the 2020 WNBA season would begin, the Minnesota Lynx and the rest of the league are preparing to tip off the new-look season in late July.
On July 6, Minnesota and a majority of other WNBA teams moved down to Bradenton, Fla. to gear up for the start of a 22-game regular season in an unusual central “bubble” location featuring two basketball courts at IMG Academy.
Following four days of quarantine and daily COVID-19 testing upon arrival in Florida, the Lynx took the court as a team for the first time this year when training camp officially kicked off on July 10 for a two-week span leading up to the regular season.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been that excited for the first day of practice,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said after the first day of training camp. “It was the first day I was really, really looking forward to with this group. We spent so much time together in the offseason over Zoom. It was hard, and I just think this group handled it so well.
“I just couldn’t wait to get on the court with them for the first time, and I think they felt that way too. The energy was palpable.”
On Monday, the Lynx and the WNBA announced the updated schedule for the upcoming year, with the league tipping off action on July 25 and Minnesota getting things rolling on July 26 against the Connecticut Sun.
“I’m just so excited to get back out (on the court),” Lynx forward/guard Karima Christmas-Kelly said. “It’s definitely fun. Hopefully we just keep on going up and up until we start the season.”
TEAM BONDING NOT AN ISSUE FOR LYNX
In a normal WNBA season, Reeve has often times been in favor of starting off the regular season schedule with a lengthy road trip.
Although being away from home and playing in front of another team’s crowd can seem like an odd thing to prefer right out of the gate, Reeve likes those early-season trips to help with team bonding as players and coaches get to know each other better.
This season, that will be the case for really the entirety of Minnesota’s stay at IMG Academy in Florida, making this more of an extreme version of an extended road trip the Lynx typically try to enjoy.
“It’s true for every team and we are all in the same boat. What is exposed is your decisions as far as the people you bring into your franchise in times like these,” Reeve said. “That’s where we feel really confident. To this point, there’s this experience together including our Zoom calls (during the offseason) and our time in Minneapolis in the market before we came down here. We have a group that is equipped to handle adversity and difficult times that might happen throughout the season. The core of who pretty much every player that is on the roster that is here is a really good person. It’s built that way by design.
“I believe that culture — something the Minnesota Lynx have been noted for over the last decade — is going to be really valuable. That’s something that we are going to focus on. We will continue to treat each other well.”
The Lynx do have some new faces that will fill the roster once again this year, but players aren’t worried about how they will bond as a team to kick off the season. Whether it was during the offseason, workouts leading up to the start of training camp or the first few days of living in the bubble in Bradenton, players and coaches were given perhaps more time than normal to get to know each other off the court and build valuable relationships.
“We had some team meetings (during the offseason) and we have some idea of what our team basics are, so we weren’t coming in blind,” Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said. “I’m super excited about the roster. The team meetings have helped a lot because you got to meet everyone and feel out their personalities before we were all thrown together on the team, so that was nice. I really like everyone on the team and I feel like we have a lot of talent. I think we will all mesh really well.”
Although it will be weird not playing in Minneapolis and spending a full season in one location rather than traveling around the country, the Lynx feel they are already ahead of the curve when it comes to establishing relationships both on and off the court leading into the year.
“An extended road trip? Definitely, yes” Lynx center Sylvia Fowles said when talking about what it will be like to play every game in Florida. “I guess every game will be a road trip game here, so we just have to get used to pieces moving around us. I’m looking forward to kicking off this season and seeing how this pans out.
“Bonding is never a problem for us. I think we do a pretty good job at bonding before we even get on the court. Our personalities mesh and it’s a matter of just getting out on the court to get to know each other. The meshing part has been there since day one.”
MINNESOTA READY TO GET ROLLING
With the updated regular season schedule officially being released on Monday with every team now present at IMG Academy, Minnesota and the rest of the WNBA are finally able to start preparing for a season. Even one as unusual as the one about to begin.
Although the league will kick off on July 25 with a triple-header broadcast airing nationally on either ABC, ESPN or CBS Sports Network, the Lynx will officially tip off the 2020 campaign on July 26 when it begins the day of games at 11 a.m. (CT) against the Connecticut Sun on ESPN.
“I missed the game. … I don’t care if we were playing in the middle of the Sahara, I wanted to play this season,” Lynx guard Shenise Johnson said. “I don’t think (the season being in Florida) will be that hard of an adjustment for many of us.”
Throughout the year, Minnesota will have at least eight of their games televised nationally on either ESPN, ESPN2 or CBS Sports Network, with a select number of other games being aired on FOX Sports North.
Basketball is back, and as happy as basketball fans will be to be able to finally watch live games on TV this month, the Lynx players were equally as excited to get back onto the court this week while preparing for a season unlike any other tipping off in a few short weeks.
“There are so many things out of our control right now and we can’t control the things that are going on in the world, but we can control our attitude,” Collier said. “We don’t want to be the team that’s complaining because everyone is in the exact same situation. If you’re complaining, us as a team, we can get ahead because as you are doing that we are getting ahead.
“You just have to stay positive. We are doing our best and we are here to play, which is what we all wanted.”