'The tone was set': Cheryl Reeve fast-forwarding Lynx preparation

Minnesota is doing all they can to be game-ready — or as close to it — come July 26.

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Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier (24) looks to inbound the ball during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on July 06, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Cheryl Reeve was unsatisfied with the Lynx’s pace and execution in Monday’s scrimmage against the Las Vegas Aces.

Had she seen improvements within 24 hours?

“Yeah, because the tone set very early on was one that I think as (the players) like to say, ‘Cheryl is on one today,’” said Reeve after Tuesday’s scrimmage against the Washington Mystics. “The tone was set, and as we share with them, that’s their version of it.”

But Reeve’s intensified accountability was justified in her eyes.

“My version of it is, ‘It’s time to go,’” Reeve said. “We have a game not too far from now, and the level of accountability had to go up.”

Week 3 of life at IMG Academy is in full force, and the Lynx are just five days away from their first game of the 2020 season. Yet, Monday was their first chance to stack up against an opponent.

So far, the scrimmages have provided valuable film, revealed strengths and weaknesses and highlighted one recurring concern: players’ inability to be in game shape by opening weekend.

“I think all of us that are scrimmaging are really concerned about opening weekend, concerned about the product,” Reeve said. “We’ve at least been able to go up and down and challenge ourselves, but it’s not enough time. What we’re doing is not enough time for them to be in great shape.”

Typically, in a pandemic-free season, the Lynx would gather at Mayo Clinic Square for training camp where they’d play 5-on-5 against a men’s squad. These practice players did not make the cut for entering IMG Academy’s clean site.

Aside from its players’ “abysmal” defense, having the men’s squad on hand did provide some benefits in past years.

“The biggest thing is that the workload is too heavy on the players without having someone to practice against to take the reps off,” Reeve said. “That is the single biggest thing all of us are missing.”

Now, WNBA players have fewer chances to grab some water, stand on the sideline and get a breather while their teammates execute their offense against the men’s players. All bodies, even those of coaches sometimes, are needed to manage an inner-squad scrimmage.

Co-captain Napheesa Collier believes scrimmaging her teammates provides its own advantages.

“We go against each other and that’s harder than going against practice players,” said Collier during Media Day. “When you go against your teammates, they know what you like to do, they know where you’re going, they know what the play is. You have to be more creative and mentally locked in, which is good for us.”

Again, Reeve’s observation somewhat differs.

“I also think we don’t play as hard against each other as the opponents are going to play against us,” Reeve said. “We’ve had some really good moments where Bridget Carleton is challenging Napheesa Collier. We’ve had some moments where playing against each other was really, really challenging, exerting that effort has been good. I just don’t think we’ve gotten it enough — particularly at the guard spot.”

Regardless, the Lynx know they’re better off than some teams.

The Aces played seven players in Monday’s scrimmage against the Lynx and, like other teams, have struggled to put together enough healthy players for inner-squad scrimmages.

“In this climate, because of the impact COVID had on a lot of teams that made decisions maybe to have 11-player rosters, maybe someone is not coming, somebody got COVID and they’re still in quarantine, you have injuries — those teams have really, really been hit hard,” Reeve said. “So without the ability to do what we did today and take the load off a little bit, that’s been probably the most challenging thing for us.”

Of course, players and coaches aren’t the only people impacted by COVID-19 protocols.

The Lynx’s athletic training needs are typically managed by head athletic trainer Chuck Barta and assistant athletic trainer Kate Taber. But Taber was not sent to Bradenton with the team.

“Chuck was probably one of the people I was most worried about coming into this situation because we, unfortunately — I understand the economics of it — we have too few staff here,” Reeve said. “We could use more help medically.”

Reeve believes Taber’s assistance would be useful but is proud of Barta’s willingness to expand his important role.

“But Chuck is grinding,” Reeve said. “He’s spending so much time with them to ensure that they can be on the court and stay healthy.

“Our whole entire staff has so many more things on their plate because it’s not as big of a staff as we have in Minnesota, obviously,” said Collier, echoing her head coach. “They’re all doing a great job, and seriously, kudos to all of them because they’re all taking on roles that might not necessarily apply to their job description, but they’re doing it for the team and they’re working overtime. We 100% appreciate everything you’re doing.”

You won’t be shocked to find out Collier is willing to make similar sacrifices for her Lynx squad.

Collier led the league in minutes played per game (33.3) in the 2019 season. That could very well be the case again this season.

“You’re going to see Napheesa Collier on the floor 30 minutes,” affirmed Reeve during Media Day.

Collier has stated her willingness to do whatever is asked of her, but will she be physically ready for 30-plus minutes of 5-on-5 action in just five days?

“I think the first couple games are going to be like every year, trying to get your legs back and trying to get back into physically what it means to be able to play a full game because even though practices are longer than a game, it’s more physically demanding during those,” Collier said. “So I think those first couple of games I’ll be able to get my wind back, then it’ll be good from there.”

Collier’s commitment to put her team first is partially why she’s been named a co-captain — a rare honor for second-year WNBA players. However, it can’t completely overshadow her own needs.

“We have a group that doesn’t complain, and that’s a really good thing,” Reeve said. “However, I told them, ‘That doesn’t mean you stay silent.’ I want us if we have an issue that we handle it the right way. We’re not a team that’s going to be blurting things out on social media before we go and figure out if there’s a solution. But sometimes that can work against you in that they feel like they’re not going to say anything.”

“So we have tried to open that dialogue certainly with Chuck. Chuck works very, very closely with me, and we are trying to recognize problems before they happen. If we anticipate even a little bit, we’re making plans to dial things back either as a team or with certain individuals who might need to modify.”

It takes a village — or a “wubble” — in 2020.