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Life in the Bubble, COVID-19 Testing and Health Risks: Minnesota Lynx Adjusting to New Normal at IMG Academy in Florida

(Screenshot of Minnesota Lynx Zoom conference call)

Imagine gathering over 140 players and multiple league and team personnel together in one central location and essentially holding them within that area for more than four months.

Well, that’s exactly what the WNBA and the Minnesota Lynx are doing right now.

On Monday, the Lynx players and team personnel along with 10 of the 11 other teams in the league — excluding only the Indiana Fever, who will travel later this week — made the move down to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. in preparation for the upcoming 2020 WNBA season unlike any other we’ve seen before.

More than two months after the original date of May 15 to open up the season, which was put on hold like the rest of the sports world due to the coronavirus pandemic, the WNBA will begin a 22-game regular season in late July in a bubble location in Florida.

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The Lynx flew commercially from Minnesota to Florida on Monday and arrived in Bradenton with a fully healthy group to begin the process of gearing up for the upcoming year, which will consist of quarantining for a total of four days upon arrival before beginning practices, a two-week training camp and eventually a regular season in late July followed by a traditional playoff format in October.

“My experience so far has been good. I like where we are staying,” Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said in a Zoom conference call on Tuesday. “We had a call earlier (Tuesday) where the league addressed a lot of our concerns, which was really good. I think everyone is ready to get started.”

It’s certainly a unique situation for the Minnesota players and everyone else living within a college campus-like atmosphere for around four months, but the Lynx are ready to deal with the new normal of the situation they’re being dealt with.

“My experience has been good so far. I haven’t had any issues. I’m pretty easy going and it doesn’t take much to please me,” Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles said on Tuesday. “I just want to keep making sure I don’t complain that much. Not everybody is going to be happy. You have to pretty much take the punches as they roll. We’ll see how this thing pans out.”

LIFE IN THE BUBBLE

While living at IMG Academy, players and teams will live in either villas or lodges and will undergo COVID-19 testing daily for at least the next few weeks leading up to the season.

With individuals not being allowed out of the bubble once they arrive, that means the Lynx will have to get creative in finding things to occupy themselves with until basketball activities officially begin in the coming weeks.

“There’s a golf course here and there’s a pool,” Collier said. “We’re not allowed to really leave the bubble for safety reasons, so it will probably be a lot of Netflix in our futures.”

For Collier, who is entering her second season in the WNBA, the feeling of the bubble is similar to what she described as being at the Final Four when she played collegiately at Connecticut.

“I’m not that far removed from college and it felt like we are at the Final Four. It feels like we are in college again,” she said. “I think it’s kind of fun to have such easy access to so many people. When we stepped off the bus, I was like ‘wow, this is a throwback’ because it felt like we’re at a tournament or something.”

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For Fowles, who will play in her 13th WNBA season, she compared life in Bradenton, Fla. to that of AAU basketball and being able to focus more on relationships with people you come in contact with.

“It’s a unique situation to be in because for anyone who has played AAU basketball, you understand those are crucial moments in your career where you meet folks and that’s where you build relationships,” she said. “It’s pretty unique to have us in this bubble and to go back to the basics.”

PREPARING FOR A SEASON AND THE RISKS PRESENTED

With the pandemic still a topic of discussion and likely to be so for at least the near future, the Lynx players know there are certainly risks that could arise throughout the course of the season while getting back onto the basketball court.

But Collier and Fowles are just two of Minnesota’s players who felt it was important to lace their shoes back up and take part in the unprecedented season in Florida regardless of the risks at play.

“I think it’s really important (to play this season). Even though it is very risky and if anyone doesn’t want to play that’s very understandable, because there is a lot going on right now,” Collier said. “I think it’s really important for the league. We’re not new, but we’re still growing and we want to get the league out there.

“We want to play basketball, that’s our profession and that’s what we love to do. If there’s any way to do that in a safe way, I think everyone is excited to do that.”

RELATED STORY: Zoom Meetings, Boxing and Playing in Her Church Gym: Napheesa Collier is Staying Game Ready

Fowles is also aware of the potential risks of playing this summer, but added she knows the WNBA will continue to take the necessary precautions to keep its players and teams safe. She also added that this is yet another platform for her and others to continue the conversation about social justice throughout the country.

“There were two reasons why I thought it was important to play this season. One was the commitment I made to the Minnesota Lynx and I’m fulfilling that. That was priority No. 1,” Fowles said. “Two, I think my platform is more meaningful when I’m in a uniform. Not saying basketball is everything, but I think people will pay attention more. I thought that was also important.”

Given the recent surge of COVID-19 cases specifically in the state of Florida, both players acknowledged having thoughts about if the year could eventually get canceled but are trying to remain as optimistic as possible that a season will be completed this summer and fall.

“I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t thought about it. You try to think about it not as often, but often enough to just be safe,” Fowles said. “With numbers spiking here in Florida — I’m from Florida — it does put you on high alert of what if we don’t finish the season. At the end of the day, I’m very optimistic about this season and we can only go as we go. I’m staying positive.”

With many things out of their control at this point, the Lynx are focused on controlling whatever they possibly can as the season finally inches closer and will eventually tip off in late July in a year like we have never seen before.

“It’s just about keeping a positive mindset. … You just pretty much have to roll with it. Everybody is on the same page and we are on a blank slate with this,” Fowles said. “If you’re positive about it, things will happen for you. If you’re going to sit and complain, things are not going to work out. We don’t want to be that team that complains, we want to work things out as much as possible. If it’s out of our control, we just have to go with it and suck it up.

“I’ve very happy with the pieces that we have. I’m looking forward to what this group can do this year.”

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