After a year off due to COVID protocols, the Minnesota Lynx male practice players are back in action.
Male practice players, a regular staple of women’s basketball, was first introduced by the late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in the 1970s. The NCAA in 2007 tried to kill it, but coaches vehemently opposed such plans, and it remains today with many college WBB teams at all three NCAA Division levels.
The WNBA also uses males in their practices. As “scout teams,” they help prepare teams for their opponents. But more importantly, the W clubs can keep their squads together during scrimmages rather than going up against each other in competition.
“They allow us to manage our bodies well,” explained Minnesota Coach Cheryl Reeve of the practice players when we asked earlier this season of their importance. At the time, the men weren’t allowed in the gym, but the league allowed them to return during this year’s Olympic break.
The coach quickly added, “My preference would be to have women that are practice players.” The league CBA won’t allow non-contract women players to serve this purpose—therefore, enter the men.
“The guys add a level of toughness and physicality and athleticism,” Chicago Coach James Wade told us recently after a practice. “It helps us.”
“They do a wonderful job and I’m appreciative,” added Lynx forward Aerial Powers. “They’re taller [and this] allows you to up your game, because you’re playing against people that are a little bit bigger.”
The MSR also talked to Lynx practice team members. “I actually got introduced to the idea by Paul Richie,” said Macalester College Assistant WBB Coach Sheu Oduniyi. He played high school basketball at Minneapolis South and later in college at Portland State. “When he brought up the idea, I jumped on it.”
Added Richie, “I got connected with [the Lynx] through a guy that works for the Timberwolves. I played basketball with him, and he said that they’re always looking for people, and I was really excited about the opportunity.
“I always knew that they were great players,” he said of the four-time champion Lynx. “I really appreciate seeing that in person. The most impressive thing to me is to watch them work day in and day out, and to maintain that level of focus all the time, that level of intensity. And that goes for the coaches as well. Everybody is very focused.”
Tim Gill plays pro ball overseas. “Last season I played in Argentina,” he said. “I got involved [as a practice player] in 2017. I have been playing with them ever since. I’ve been going back and forth through my [overseas] season playing and coming back in the summertime.”
He said of the Lynx players, “They’re more athletic than you would assume. The IQ level is tremendously high.”
The women play physically
, said Richie. “I knew I was going to get screened like four or five times in practice. They get me every time.”
“I get bumped and banged up a lot,” added Gill.
Oduniyi stressed how appreciative he is for “the learning opportunity for me as a coach” to observe up close Reeve and the other Lynx coaches at practices. “I learn new things and see how things would be implemented. Discover some new concepts that I can kind of tweak and fit to whoever I’m coaching, whether it’s Macalester or 43 Hoops (a local girls AAU team).”
“You’re only going to get better” going up against the men, said Powers.
“The guys have been great,” said Wade. “I’m always appreciative of them, and we always try to take care of them as much as possible. They’re our biggest supporters.
“I just want to give big props to them.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.