This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.
A strong team is only as strong as its formidable bench. A strong bench therefore proves invaluable, especially during stretch runs. This is no less true in the WNBA, and the Minnesota Lynx arguably have the league’s best.
“They’ve got talent and experience coming off their bench,” noted Seattle Coach Jenny Boucek after Sunday’s Storm-Lynx contest in St. Paul.
“I’m convinced that without our bench, I don’t know how successful we would be,” declared Lynx Assistant Coach James Wade on the team’s MVB (most valuable bench).
“We each have a role to play. Accept the role and take pride in it. We want to win,” noted Lynx Guard Jia Perkins.
And there are times, such as during last Sunday’s contest, when a reserve such as Perkins must step in and play starters’ minutes. Perkins, in place of regular Seimone Augustus, played nearly 36 minutes. “It wasn’t just me, but a team effort,” she told the MSR afterwards.
Every pro player who comes into the W was once a big-time college star. “It is an adjustment, but if you embrace winning more than you embrace statistics, then you’ll buy in and probably will be successful,” explained Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson, whose first four seasons in Sacramento was in a reserve role. “I had to make that adjustment… It wasn’t about me but about winning. And it was about the team,” added Brunson, a member of the now-defunct 2005 Monarchs WNBA champions.
Says Lynx forward Maya Moore, “Not everybody can play here, because you have to really figure out a way to do your part…for the greater goal. Me included, everybody has to come in and do your part…”
A player’s attitude to a role change is crucial as well, said Lynx guard Renee Montgomery. “It might be hard for them to play second fiddle. A lot of times people struggle with it mentally.”
“We’ve been blessed with people coming into our system and understanding what their role is going to be, and embracing it, no matter what it is,” observed Moore. “We celebrate everyone’s successes. When we as the starting five are out there, the bench goes wild for us, and when some of the reserves are in, we are celebrating their successes. It’s a real fun way to play.”
“We don’t win without them,” reiterated Brunson on the Minnesota reserves that feature two former Sixth Women of the Year winners, three former All-Stars, two first-rounders, and an Olympian.
The Lynx bench
Montgomery, 5’-7”, is a nine-year veteran guard, 2009 first-round pick, a 2011 All-Star and the 2012 Sixth Woman winner. She pointed out, “My main focus is to come into the game and not have a negative impact” on the game. “We want to maintain or push up the pace, try to get the other team’s players tired if you can.”
Perkins, 5’-8”, is a 14-year veteran guard who made her WNBA debut and scored her first pro point against Minnesota with Charlotte in 2004. The 2009 All-Star surpassed the 600-career steal mark earlier this season.
Natasha Howard, 6’-2”, is a four-year veteran forward who played in two consecutive Finals with two different teams (Indiana, 2015; Minnesota, 2016).
Plenette Pierson, 6’-2”, is a 15-year veteran forward, a 2003 first-round pick, the 2007 Sixth Woman winner and a 2015 All-Star in her first year with Minnesota. “I’m an opportunist,” she told us with a wry smile. “I take my opportunities when they come and try to knock down the shots.”
Temi Fagbenle, 6’-4”, is a rookie center, a member of the 2012 Great Britain Summer Olympics squad. Of Fagbenle and Alexis Jones, 5’-8” rookie guard and 2017 first-round pick, Wade said they “come in at practice and work hard every day.”
It’s always a team effort, said Moore. “We play pro basketball at a real high level. It’s a serious thing for us.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.