It’s not easy to make a WNBA team, and once you get there, it’s not easy to earn minutes. Temi Fagbenle knows this better than anyone.
Playing behind the reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player in Sylvia Fowles, Fagbenle has to fight for every minute she’s on the floor. But in her second year in the league, the early results have been positive.
A few days after her arrival to Lynx training camp straight off of winning the Polish League’s Finals MVP, Fagbenle’s improvement has caught coach Cheryl Reeve’s eye.
“She’s just got a better pace about her,” Reeve said. “Rookies have a really frenetic pace about them, and Temi’s got more of a calm. She’s got a purpose to her movements, she understands the plays better. Before it would just be her running and setting a ball screen even if she wasn’t supposed to.”
Fagbenle attributes her growth to a better understanding of the Lynx’s system, but more importantly, to an increase in her belief in herself.
“I’m more confident. I have the skills, I always had the skills, it’s just about the confidence,” Fagbenle said. “Confidence in me from my coaches and my teammates but also confidence in myself that I can do what I know I can do and I can deliver.”
Fagbenle wasn’t a lock to make this year’s Lynx roster—competition in training camp is always fierce—but Reeve said after practice on Wednesday that she feels good about Fagbenle’s position heading towards roster cuts. The next step is figuring out how to stay on the floor.
After being the No. 1 option in Poland, Fagbenle, like many other WNBA players who play abroad during the offseason, must now adjust to a changed role. She won’t see the court as much, she won’t be the first option on offense, and she’ll have to come in off the bench and make an impact without the benefit of spare minutes to get in rhythm.
Reeve is working hard to balance encouraging Fagbenle to keep her confidence and momentum with readying her for the role she’ll play on the Lynx. However, Reeve’s decisions about whether or not to keep Fagbenle on the court won’t be a complicated calculus, rather, a matter of fundamentals.
“Really simple, whether it’s Temi or Kizer or anybody: defend without fouling and don’t turn it over,” Reeve said. “If you do those two things you have a chance to be on the floor longer.”
Fagbenle and her coach are on the same page in terms of her basketball basics.
“I think last year I was a lot more tentative, missing a lot of stupid shots, layups, so I’m doing a lot of the easy fundamental things that can give the coach trust in me,” Fagbenle said.
Fagbenle’s ability to rebound and run the floor will be crucial as well. Fagbenle has slimmed down—she lost 23 pounds in the offseason—and her length and athleticism combined with her growing understanding of the game will help her ability to react quickly and with precision to what is happening on the floor around her. Fagbenle has always been a good rebounder, something Reeve values Fowles may be the MVP, but she can’t play the whole game, and if Fagbenle can play smart and play her game, there will be a place for her on this team.