“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
That particular West African proverb has carried Napheesa Collier throughout her basketball career. She let her play do the talking while she racked up accolade after accolade, win after win while at UConn. A Swiss Army knife on the court but laid back and reserved off it, Collier quickly became the WNBA’s top rookie last season on her way to Rookie of the Year honors.
But in her second season with the Minnesota Lynx, Collier is being forced to speak a little louder, all while carrying an even bigger stick.
With injuries to team co-captains Karima Christmas-Kelly and Sylvia Fowles, it’s been Collier — at just age 23 — who’s been left as the de facto on-court leader for the Lynx.
“I’m just trying to be that kind of voice as much as I can, and keeping us together,” Collier told media via Zoom. “[I’m] making sure everyone is on the same page, just trying to do that a little bit more than I was before since we’re missing two more voices now.”
While being a bit more vocal has pushed Collier outside of her comfort zone, Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve believes Collier is a natural-born leader given her work ethic.
“Players will tell you they have great appreciation for captains who are the hardest working players on the team — that they can ‘walk the walk,’ so to speak,” Reeve said over a Zoom call on Tuesday. “There’s nothing worse than having someone that has things to say that doesn’t back it up with her actions. Phee is so beyond her years.
“I think she is trying to find her voice a little bit more, using her voice. She’ll tell you that her voice doesn’t carry, so to speak. She’s trying to be a communicator.”
Rookie Crystal Dangerfield played with Collier for three years at UConn before being drafted by the Lynx in the offseason. Dangerfield has witnessed a switch to a more vocal Collier over the past few weeks firsthand.
“She’s changed vocally, you hear her on the floor a lot more,” said Dangerfield. “What makes her a great leader is her consistency. We know exactly what we’re gonna get from her, scoring-wise and rebounding-wise, having our back defensively.”
The Lynx are 7-3 to start the season, thanks in-part to Collier’s leadership. That leadership will continue to be tested as Minnesota looks to keep its playoff standing in the second half of the season, beginning Wednesday night versus the Dallas Wings.