Five seconds left. Tie game.
The basketball is in your hands, while you take your mind inside of your favorite player, counting down the seconds in your backyard.
Five. Four. Three. Two.
You let it fly.
You hear the buzzer go off inside your head, feeling the pressure of the moment, as the ball soars towards the rim. When it goes through the net, you recreate the same joy in the driveway you’ve seen your new favorite player experience, soaking in the splendors of the moment on the biggest stage.
Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve, who is also leading the USA Basketball Women’s National Team through the 2024 Paris Olympics, is excited for the thousands of local young children to go home and recreate those moments after experiencing first-hand the greatness of the incredible women’s basketball talent on display in Minneapolis this weekend.
“Something’s going to happen multiple times where a young person, a young girl, or a young boy, is going to be influenced by either a national team player, a Lynx player, South Carolina player, a UCONN player, a Louisville player, a Stanford player,” Reeve said, wearing a big smile. “And it’s going to change their lives.”
Kids will have plenty of players to choose from between the NCAA Women’s Final Four and USA Basketball Women’s National Team Spring Minicamp both taking over downtown Minneapolis.
With so many legends around, it only takes one small moment to ignite a fire inside a young fan that can burn for a lifetime.
“All it takes is that one moment where they go, ‘Oh, A’ja [Wilson] wants to talk to me!’ and now they connect with that player. So it creates a connection,” Reeve added. “Many of our players would tell you that something happened when they were young. It’s events like these.”
The greatest among us started out as kids wanting that moment, that connection, and to be inspired to reach their fullest potential.
“Every player in here will tell you about it,” Reeve said while pointing out different players in the gym for minicamp, such as WNBA MVPs Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson, before recalling one story closer to home.
“Maya Moore always talked about being eight years old, going to a WNBA All-Star Game and leaning over a railing, where Cynthia Cooper said hello to her and what that meant to her,” Reeve said. “Every player has that experience that they remember for the rest of their lives, and it helps to shape them.”
Lynx guard Aerial Powers was moved to tears when she recalled feeling that moment growing up in Detroit.
“[Former Detroit Piston] Lindsay Hunter, I will never forget, would come to these Krispy Kreme events I was at as a kid,” Powers said, recalling how gracious he was with his time. “[Those moments] mean a lot to people.”
That experience came full circle for Powers later in her career.
“Later on, I was able to work out with him and he didn’t even know I came to something like that. So it meant a lot to me. I know how much it means to people,” the usually-energetic Powers said with tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s about building a community and teaching people that if you grind and you work hard, you can achieve anything you want to do.”
Young players in Minnesota are certainly a testament to that. The talent level of high school players locally, according to Reeve, is at an all-time high. She credits that to the presence of a WNBA franchise in Minneapolis and opportunities for the community to insert itself into events like the Final Four.
“I think there’s a direct correlation to having the WNBA here because those young girls can go in their backyard and emulate great women players. They don’t have to go to a Timberwolves game and emulate a Timberwolves player,” Reeve said. “I’m in my backyard, I’m dreaming about this goal. I’m going to play at a younger age. I’m going to work on my game. I’m going to dream about it, so I have a chance. I believe that’s raised the quality of play.”
National Team players agree with Reeve, which is why they know it is imperative to be selfless in these moments and connect with young fans.
“You don’t even have to tell them, because they get it,” Reeve said with a proud smile. “These players understand the value of what they’re doing. On their own, unprompted, they’ll [connect with fans]. They will do those things because they know what it meant to them when they were young.”
The local youth talent here took Powers by surprise during her first season in Minnesota.
“You’re looking at high school games on IG and the arena is filled. That stuff is really crazy,” a hyped-up Powers said. “You can just see that all this BS that people talk about how women’s basketball is not this, no. You just haven’t come in and checked it out yet.”
She added that she was proud to see reports showing that women represented four of the top five players in terms of NIL value among players in the NCAA Final Fours.
Powers knows the women’s game is growing at an exponential rate and made clear that she wants to become more active with her teammates in the local youth basketball scene in Minneapolis given the talent Reeve mentioned.
“For sure. Not only doing that, but getting in the gym with them. That’d be fire.”
representing the Minnesota Lynx at USA Basketball Minicamp pic.twitter.com/qasXUcXrAc— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) April 2, 2022
The Lynx did get plenty of work in during this whirlwind weekend, too. Reeve and the Lynx organization hosted the USA Basketball Women’s National Team for a spring minicamp in a unique setting: Mayo Clinic Square.
Very infrequently are WNBA players able to see other organizations’ practice facilities and use them while playing for a rival’s head coach alongside some of the greatest players in the world. That significance of that opportunity is not lost on Reeve.
“This is the place that we call home. I’ve said that showing off not just a great facility, but just showing off our community, like we’re going to see at the games, is great,” Reeve said nodding and smiling throughout. “I’m always super proud of all that we have here. So it’s fun to be able to show everyone else that.”
Spring minicamp was an excellent chance for five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, the Lynx’s marquee offseason acquisition, to get to know her new home, her new coach, and one of her new teammates. To do it all while wearing USA across her chest the same weekend her Louisville Cardinals play in the Final Four was special for her.
“I’m living the fairytale life,” she said with a huge smile, looking around the gym at her peers. “I think I deserve it, because I’ve sat out for so long with injuries, but it’s every girl’s dream. What more can you ask for, to play for Team USA with your coach being the head coach, and you’re at the Final Four with your alma mater? It just doesn’t get any better.”
Comfortability is the biggest factor for McCoughtry, a USA Basketball veteran, ahead of her first season with the Lynx.
“I feel comfortable. I spent time with Cheryl early on and with some of the players and things like that, it really helps in a lot of ways” she added. “Going through plays early, it helps with your comfortability.”
She is looking forward to building on her relationship with Powers, too.
“I just gave her some pointers on things I saw at the practice. That’s the thing, I see a lot of myself in her at her age,” McCoughtry said in an upbeat, excited tone. “I’m 35 and these girls haven’t even reached 30 yet. They have a lot of energy to bring. I’m going to add a lot of my experience and what I’ve learned over the years.”
The opportunity to for players such as McCoughtry and Powers to get to know each other in a one-on-one setting is critical ahead of the season. Because of Powers’ injuries last season and the rehab associated with them, she didn’t have as much time to connect with teammates in the building as she would’ve hoped, so minicamp has been huge for her.
“It’s amazing,” said Powers about the chance to connect with and learn from McCoughtry. “She actually mentioned some things that I know I need to work on. ... That’s only going to improve my game.”
Powers explained the value of teams whose players can coach each other, rather than needing a coach to bring that every day. The addition of McCoughtry — who said the biggest value she brings to the team is her experience — to pair with a wealth of knowledge like Sylvia Fowles will go a long way.
“If your players talk to each other and help each other, and they listen to each other, that right there is the championship-type mindset,” Powers said passionately. “I can’t wait to play with her.”
Reeve agrees on the value of settings like this for players to learn about each other.
“I think it helps familiarity. Your starting place is further along once you start the year, because you’ve kind of worked out some things that ordinarily, if you didn’t get the time, you’d have to be spending training camp to do,” she said. “That’s helpful when camp is only three weeks away.”
The Lynx are looking to come out of the gates strong after a underwhelming start to last season that Reeve chalked up to the team’s poor training camp.
Powers has worked to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.
“AP has really prepared herself. She’s in much better shape than this time last year,” Reeve said, crediting Powers’ offseason work. “We say ‘control the controllables’ and that’s what she’s doing.”
all smiles— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) April 2, 2022
USA Basketball Open Practice pic.twitter.com/VE6h8FDRP0
Powers was clearly grateful to play the game she loves with USA across her chest, especially after working so hard to rehab her injuries and get to this point.
“It’s an honor. The best players are here, so I just feel excited to give it everything I have. I’m smiling so hard just even thinking I’m here with them. You know about all the injuries I’ve been through, all the work I put in, all the dedication,” Powers said through a stream of tears coming down her face. “I feel like I should be here.”
It was difficult for me to not get emotional seeing how much training with USA Basketball meant to Powers, who normally wears the widest smile in any gym and sets the energy for everyone inside it.
Reeve believes Powers belongs, too.
“I happen to think that’s a player that if she has the kind of year we think she can, you go to our [USA Basketball] camp in September at the end of the season, as we pick our team, she’d be a hard one to leave off,” Reeve said with a laugh, admitting how big of a fan she is of Powers’ game. “I think this is a really good experience for her to start to build towards that.”
Reeve added that Powers will remain in Minneapolis until the start of camp so Powers can get as much work in the facility as possible. With more players in market this offseason than last, the three-time WNBA Coach of the Year expects a better start to the 2022 season.
I asked Reeve what this week will mean to her when she looks back at it down the road. Normally one to have the words for a response quickly, she took a moment to think.
“Meaningful is probably the best word to put on it,” she said. “Talk about relationships. Even players from around the Ieague, I always enjoy interacting with them because you see them differently.”
Showing off the Lynx facilities to those players was undoubtedly a special aspect of this week for Reeve and company.
A key part of that is the evident tradition of the Lynx franchise that hangs on the walls lining the practice courts. Minnesota’s four-time WNBA champion head coach was proud to be able to show that off, especially considering how embedded the franchise is with USA Basketball.
a lot of championships amongst these three pic.twitter.com/O16IfqSxrz— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) April 2, 2022
“It’s inspiring. Any player is inspired by it,” McCoughtry said. “It makes you feel good that you’re apart of it. For so many years, I’ve played against Minnesota and had so many nightmares. I wanted to be part of that tradition that they’ve built for so long. Playing against it, that’s the way I want to make other teams feel — to be afraid of coming to play Minnesota.”
“Everything we have here and how we do it here, that’s why you see so many here [with the Lynx franchise] that have been a part of USAB, and hopefully in the future will continue to be part of USAB, because that’s how we do it,” Reeve said in a quiet, yet proud and grateful tone. “The culture we have here, the type of people that we bring here, all of that is on display. That will end up proving to be pretty meaningful.”
In addition to Reeve, one of the all-time great WNBA scorers in McCoughtry, a dynamic and extremely talented guard in Powers, and Hall of Fame player-turned-coach and Lynx legend Katie Smith, who were all participating in the minicamp, several members of the Lynx — past and present — showed their support.
Current assistant coach, five-time WNBA champion and five-time All-Star Rebekkah Brunson supported her players, as did 2017 WNBA champion and Brunson’s fellow assistant coach Plenette Pierson. Current players Napheesa Collier (a 2021 Tokyo Olympic gold medalist), Natalie Achonwa, Damiris Dantas, and Rachel Banham made the trip back to Minneapolis to show their support as well.
Ahead of her final season, Fowles made the trip up from her native Miami to support her former USA Basketball teammates and, of course, her coach. After watching practice on Thursday from an office above the court, Fowles came down to the court to a very warm reception. Nearly every player participating in camp came up to Fowles for one of her famous hugs and to give flowers to one of the best to ever play the game. The Lynx are fortunate to have her.
The way this organization supports each other is real and authentic, and there is a clear collective connection that will serve the team well ahead of training camp, which opens on April 22.
The Lynx have championship expectations and they are ready for the task of sending Sylvia Fowles out with one last ring.
Opportunities like this weekend are a once-in-a-lifetime for all involved. To have the greatest women’s basketball players in the world come together in a growing basketball giant like Minneapolis has been incredible to experience first-hand.
The only thing that can make it better?
Minnesota native Paige Bueckers writing her own hometown history one day after Lindsay Whalen completed her journey from Hutchinson to the Hall of Fame.
Tonight — playing on a floor she has won a championship on before — Bueckers can do just that.