More than human crash-test dummies
Winning a championship, or winning four in seven tries as the Minnesota Lynx have done, involves more than the players and coaches. There are countless behind-the-scenes folk who are just as integral in the team’s success: the Minnesota Lynx practice squad for example.
“We get a few elbows. We’ve broken some noses at practice. We have to take our hats for the guys,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said in praise of the group of young men — former college players, who serve as their opponents for the 2017 WNBA champions at practices.
Sometimes called the ‘scout team’ — using men at women’s basketball team practices coast-to-coast both at college and in the WNBA, is commonplace.
The Lynx coaches and the players fully know that the practice team is more than human crash-test dummies. “They’ve been great,” Minnesota Assistant Coach James Wade attested. “They get us ready for the physical battles that we are going to see in the league because of their willingness to do everything to mimic [the Lynx’s opponents].
“We might have one player be Candace Parker, and one week be Elena Delle Donne, and Brittney Griner the next week. They were able to do that at the level of success where it gets us ready for games.”
“Nobody talks about our practice guys,” Augustus reiterated. “They don’t get paid to do it. They get a free meal [after practices] but they come in and prepare us like no other.”
“Our practice guys did a great job getting us ready to play L.A.,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore. “It takes a lot of dedication to do what they do without getting the praise and recognition.”
Wade added that the practice team’s importance to the Lynx can’t be understated. “That was a big help for us all season.”
“It’s cool to play against the best women in the world. We not only get to play against them but learn from them,” reflected Demitrius Martin, a longtime practice team member.
Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson confirmed, “These guys play hard. They don’t come in and take it easy on us. Playing against them gives us the mindset that if we beat these guys, if we can win against them and stop them, then we will be able to do well when we step on the court.”
“From the first practice to the last practice, they were preparing to get better and play for a championship. They played every [regular season] game like it was a championship game, playing for this game five,” reported Johnell Hallman, a four-year practice team member. He’s also this writer’s youngest son, who four years ago was recruited by former Lynx associate coach Jim Petersen.
Hallman and Martin were among their fellow team members who participated in last Thursday’s celebratory parade in Dinkytown. It was their second such ride — they also rode in the 2015 parade in downtown Minneapolis after Minnesota’s 2015 Finals win. “I had a great time,” noted Hallman.
“Thank you practice guys,” said Brunson in the champagne-soaked locker room after winning the 2017 W crown last week. “We appreciate you so much.”
Jia Perkins finally can take her name off of a dubious list: She had played the second-most regular season games (417) without a championship. “Thank God for that,” the 14–year veteran guard (her second in Minnesota) told the MSR after the title game. “We have a great chemistry and love for each other.”
Plenette Pierson, Perkins’ college teammate at Texas Tech, closed her 15th and final season with her third W championship — she won two with Detroit (now Dallas) in 2006 and 2008. She announced her retirement earlier this season. “Every time you win a championship in this league always is a blessing. I’ve been lucky and blessed…I’m on a great team to get my third [championship],” said Pierson on the Williams Arena court after the win.
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.