The Disappointment Is There, But Napheesa Collier Remains Positive

The Minnesota Lynx released their original 2020 schedule on Jan. 16 and revealed they’d once again be opening their season against the Chicago Sky, just as they did in 2019.

My productivity was depleted for the next hour or so once the announcement came.

Before I could do anything else, I had to relive Napheesa Collier’s rookie debut against the Sky from the previous season. I had to take in the ease she played with as she marched to not 15, not 20, not 25, 27 (!) points in her first WNBA game.

If we saw that from Collier in her introduction to the league, what would we see from her as she opened her sophomore season on May 15, 2020?

Pause your countdowns for the 2020 WNBA season, because that question will remain unanswered for the time being.

Instead of arriving at Wintrust Arena for her team’s first shootaround of the 2020 season, Collier spent Friday morning speaking to media members via Zoom from St. Charles, Missouri where she has sheltered in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She’ll spend what should have been her team’s first 2020 game day working out at a gym inside a church she has access to, working on her 3-point shot and checking off the list of workouts Lynx trainers Chuck Barta and Kate Taber have sent her and her teammates. She might meet up with her teammates and coaches via Zoom later in the day and will get in a round or two of Monopoly when her schedule allows for it.

She’s grown acclimated to this routine as the virus has continued to spread throughout the nation, but the disappointment of what Friday should have entailed is still there.

“It’s really disappointing,” Collier said. “I was really looking forward to my second year in the league and just playing in general. This is what we all love to do.”

Yet, the player whose level-headedness we learned to expect in 2019 knows starting the season on time can’t be the league’s top priority right now.

“With everything going on, it’s just not safe or feasible for us to (play) right now,” Collier said. “I think we’re all super excited to get on the court whenever that is and whatever that looks like, but it just can’t happen right now.

“It just kind of is what it is.”

Collier said she would be willing to play if the league decided to go forward with the season, assuming every precaution to ensure players’, coaches’ and staff members’ safety was taken.

“If it’s at a safe location, we’re all quarantined together, we do the mandatory quarantine for 14 days, as long as the right precautions are taken, I absolutely want to play,” Collier said. “That’s why we all do this — because we love playing. If we can do that in a safe manner, I definitely would want to do it.”

But rushing into games without a two-week training camp is out of the question in Collier’s mind.

“Even though you’re training at home, it’s nothing like being in basketball shape,” Collier said. “If they just throw us into games, you’re going to have a lot of injuries and things like that. We need that time to not only know what we’re doing as a team to get on the same page but to get people’s bodies back in that kind of shape.”

So as she waits for more answers from the league, she’ll continue to tune in for virtual film sessions held to teach newcomers about Lynx culture, expectations and defensive schemes. She’ll continue to answer former UConn teammate Crystal Dangerfield’s question about the Lynx, playing in the league and life in Minnesota. She’ll keep marveling at Michael Jordan’s competitive drive as she tunes in for “The Last Dance” every Sunday night.

And she’ll keep an eye out for those small positives that take extra effort to uncover these days.

“Coach (Cheryl Reeve) kind of made a good point that this is something that obviously the people of last year didn’t get to do where you kind of get to meet (new teammates) and know them a little bit better before we’re all thrown in together,” Collier said. “I guess that’s kind of the upside to all of this.”