A year ago, Napheesa Collier broke onto the WNBA scene by making her professional debut as a rookie with the Minnesota Lynx while dropping 27 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the 2019 regular season opener against the Chicago Sky.
On Friday, Collier was hoping to begin her second year in the WNBA getting off to a similar strong start to the regular season, originally being slated to open the 2020 campaign against the Sky at Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Friday.
Instead, the second-year forward and her teammates aren’t exactly sure where, when or even if a season could potentially tip off amid the coronavirus outbreak around the country.
“We have no idea when we could be called upon. They could call us tomorrow and tell us we have to be somewhere in two weeks or be ready a month from now,” Collier said in an interview with Zone Coverage. “You have to stay in game-ready shape which is hard to do. You have to train so much harder than you would stay in normal shape.”
A big key for any player leading up to a new year is getting your body ready to endure a regular season schedule and potentially a postseason run.
This offseason is no exception for players around the WNBA. With just about everything shut down or closed right now, it has limited the amount Collier and others have been able to work out — resulting in players finding creative ways to stay in shape.
“The biggest adjustment for me has been just not really doing anything. Really for the first time, I’m not doing anything and not playing basketball, so it’s just weird. I’m trying to stay in shape, but staying in basketball shape is pretty hard,” Collier said. “It’s difficult to stay ready, but I’m just trying to stay busy. Our team sends us workouts to do and we have a bunch of team meetings over Zoom. They are keeping us together.”
Right now, Collier is back at home in Missouri while awaiting the start of the upcoming season, wherever and whenever that might be. To try and stay ready as much as she can, Collier has utilized her local church and is taking up a new hobby with her dad as well.
“We have church with a gym that we have access to, so I can do my basketball workouts there,” she said. “The team sends us other workouts to stay in shape and my dad is actually teaching me how to box, so that’s been fun.”
Outside of working out on her own, the Lynx regularly hold virtual meetings and Collier said they even have once-a-week small group meetings with other players at similar positions on the team.
“We have team meetings and coach catches up with everyone and talks about what our team is about and schemes that we do. Just trying to stay ready in case we are called upon at any time so that we have some idea of what our team basics are and we aren’t coming in blind,” Collier said. “We also have small group meetings once a week. For example, with two other post players, one week we did a yoga session and other things like that.”
The Unknown of a Season
There are many unknowns within multiple sports leagues throughout the country during the pandemic. In the early stages of the virus outbreak, the WNBA had the luxury of not being in-season like other leagues were, but now that has changed.
When it comes to a potential start of the season and how that would be able to happen, multiple scenarios have been brought up in the sports world, including playing without fans or having all of the teams play in one central “bubble” location in a city.
Whatever decision is ultimately made specifically for the WNBA, Collier said she is fine with it if it means she can get back on the floor this season.
“We are kind just waiting to see what the NBA does, because our season is going to mirror what they are doing for the rest of their season. At this point, no matter how it looks, we just want to get on the court,” she said. “I’m sure there aren’t going to be any fans, which is a huge bummer. A huge part of the game is playing in front of fans and not being able to do that is going to kind of feel like a closed scrimmage. It’s been so long, we just want to get on the court no matter what it looks like.”
Playing without fans immediately is likely inevitable at this point. When it comes to potentially playing on one central location with the other 11 WNBA teams, Collier said it would have a weird feeling to it, but would ultimately keep everyone as safe as possible.
“It would have a college feel, except even smaller because I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to leave that site. It’s not that ideal, because we wouldn’t be able to see our families and we wouldn’t have fans, but we just want sports and we want to play,” Collier said. “Even though it’s not ideal or what we want, it’s what would keep everyone safe and that is most important. Like I said, no matter how that looks, I think we are pretty much up for anything right now.”
What to Expect when a Season Begins
If and when a WNBA season does begin in 2020, Collier has high hopes for Minnesota and her second season in the league.
During her rookie campaign, she put together a dominant inaugural season with averages of 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three. The Lynx star also ended up earning Rookie of the Year honors and a spot in the WNBA All-Star Game, among other accolades.
“I think (my rookie year) went well. I struggled in our first two preseason games and I told myself to kind of flip a switch because I didn’t want to carry out the rest of my season like that,” Collier said. “I think it was easy for me to transition because the coaches I had at UConn were amazing. How they got us prepared mentally for games, I think it’s unmatched especially in college.
“There are a lot of things that I want to work on getting better at. I want to use that as a jumping off point for my career. I now know where I match up to others in the league and can see where my weaknesses are, so that’s what I’ve been working on during the offseason in trying to make sure there’s nowhere on the court where I can’t score.”
In Year 2, she hopes to continue to improve while being excited for the potential of Minnesota building on another playoff appearance in 2019.
“I’m super excited about the roster. We got a lot of great players this offseason,” Collier said. “The team meetings have helped a lot because you get to meet everyone and feel out their personalities before we are all thrown together on the team, so that’s been 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.”
While holding high hopes for herself in taking the next step during her second season in the league, the goals she has for her team remains the same. Now it’s just a matter of where and when Collier and the Lynx will be able to try and start accomplishing those goals on the court this year.
“Winning a championship is our goal every year. I think we have a great group of women to do that with,” she said. “That’s our goal every single year, to win a championship. It’s the same this year.”