When Janel McCarville was traded to the Minnesota Lynx in the spring, she was excited for many reasons.
She was back in Minnesota, the state in which she helped take the University of Minnesota to the 2004 Final Four. She was reconnected with Lindsay Whalen, the point guard of that same Golden Gopher team and one of her best friends. She was also closer to her home in Stevens Point, Wis.
But what about winning? That had to be right up there, right? And this thing called the playoffs, something the Lynx are pretty familiar with.
"I expected to be here (in the playoffs)," McCarville said. "Obviously everyone's goal is to be champions of the league and everyone goes into the season wishing that. All season long Cheryl's been saying 'don't wish it, do it'. We understand how good we can be. It was surreal for me in the beginning to know it was a possibility, but now I don't expect anything but the best."
Coming into the 2013 season, McCarville hadn't played in the WNBA since 2010 and now here she was, preparing for the 2013 playoffs with the WNBA's best team as its starting center. This isn't the former No. 1 overall pick's first playoff appearance, though.
From 2007 to 2010, she was on a New York Liberty team that made three playoff appearances for a total of 11 games. She was a big part of those series, too, playing an average of 29.6 minutes per game, while scoring 12.3 points and six rebounds per game.
Three seasons later, though, McCarville says this ride into the playoffs is different.
"The work ethic, the determination, that's a lot different in Minnesota," McCarville said. "It's turned up here."
That's likely because for the core group of Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Monica Wright, this isn't their first rodeo. This will be their third postseason trip together. Augustus noticed that McCarville has been eager to get back to the postseason and couldn't be more animated to get in on the action.
"We enjoy her excitement. We had a playoff meeting and she's like 'this is the first time I've been in the playoffs as a No. 1 seed' and we're just like 'hold on, the ride's going to get a little better, just go along with this roller coaster ride with us,'" the All-Star shooting guard said. "She told us she's there with us and will do whatever she can to win."
Augustus is familiar with that feeling as well.
"I had cheese all over my face," Augustus said about making the playoffs for the first time in her career back in 2011. "I was smiling so much. For me, it was all of the past years to get to this point."
From what we remember, that 2011 run ended pretty well for the Lynx.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wasn't surprised when she found out McCarville was a bit more excited than some of the other players for postseason play. In fact, it was something Reeve noticed while the Lynx were fighting for homecourt advantage.
"You could tell at the end of the season when we were really going for that No. 1 seed that Janel was a little more excited and had a little more fire than some of the others, so when you say she's really excited to be back in the playoffs, that doesn't surprise me," Reeve said.
McCarville hopes she can help make an impact to make a deep postseason run, but three months ago, there were some question marks.
When McCarville entered training camp back in May, she had a lot on her checklist. She had to get into basketball shape on the run (literally), while a lot of her teammates had been playing year-round. She had to get familiar with Minnesota's playbook and was attempting to gel with a team that wasn't all that familiar with change.
That checklist has plenty of 'checks' on it now. Now the main goal is to win in the playoffs, something McCarville and the Lynx hope will ultimately end with the WNBA championship making its way back to Minneapolis.
She hasn't been asked to carry the load for the Lynx, but instead, be a facilitator from the high post and be a bruiser down low. She's started 32 games this season, is averaging 21.9 minutes per game and is averaging 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and a career-high 2.9 assists per game. On a team with so many stars, McCarville has fit in just fine.
"For Janel it's cool because this is what she worked for all year," Whalen said. "This is why she worked so hard all season, this is one of the reasons why she came back, to put herself in this situation to be in the playoffs to play on a really good team, so now it comes down to it, now it's time to play."
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