Extended chat with Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve
Honest thoughts heading into the draft…and into high expectations from fans and media.
by Stephen Litel / Twitter @stephenlitel
The Minnesota Lynx are in the midst of a crazy off-season. There are already numerous new faces on the team, including the head coach. Cheryl Reeve has great expectations of her team and, even as a “rookie” head coach, she believes that she will help this team succeed in the summer of 2010.
I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Reeve for an extended amount of time and found her to be very honest and engaging. For those Lynx fans out there that have not had the opportunity to meet her, I believe you will feel the same when you see her in action. I want to hear your thoughts after you read it. What did you like from what she said? Does anything strike you funny? Let’s hear it, Lynx fans.
Here is the transcript of our conversation…
SLAM: You spoke of high expectations of this team at your introductory press conference and that was before the Whalen trade. Why were you so confident?
Cheryl Reeve: I think, more than anything, that this is a team that has been knocking on the door in terms of putting the pieces together, putting the young talent together. I have a lot of confidence in myself to be able to take a team like the Minnesota Lynx and give them the direction it takes to be successful. Whether it was Renee Montgomery or Lindsay Whalen, I believe the Lynx were going to be successful. The difference would probably be that when you have a veteran point guard, that process gets accelerated. I am a big fan of Renee Montgomery, so I was a big believer that we were going to get it done with her as well. We probably would have just had some growing pains to go through first.
SLAM: Does having Whalen instead of Montgomery change anything you were planning to do?
Reeve: It doesn’t. It doesn’t change our style of play or what we would run. I think what changes a little bit is you spend less time worrying about Lindsay and you focus your energies in other places. I’m going to ask Lindsay to guard a pick-and-roll a certain way and she’ll say, ‘OK, I’ve been there, done that a few hundred times.’ Same thing with using a ball-screen, so there’s going to be less in teaching in terms of, ‘On the pick-and-roll, this is what I need you to do.’ She’s already done it and she’s already got the coaching, so in that respect, it’s a little bit different.
SLAM: Again, at your press conference, you spoke of defense and rebounding. What do you see as the biggest challenge in implementing that more into the team?
Reeve: You know what? I don’t see challenges from the standpoint of implementation or even the players buying into it. Maybe that’s naïve, but it’s really not that hard. We’ll be very, very consistent in our coaching efforts, they’ll know exactly what they’re supposed to do and when, it’s simplified and it’s not like there is a dynamic plan that we’ll have to spend three weeks preparing for. It’s very, very basic defensive fundamentals and it’s just about being harder to play against on that side of the ball. The only time they’re going to see me get upset at practice is if we’re not defending and rebounding, so it’s not what you teach. It’s what you emphasize and that’s definitely going to be an emphasis through three weeks of training camp. I’m a big believer in what you do in training camp defines who you are in the WNBA during the regular season. It absolutely does. I’ve been doing this for a long time. If you have a good training camp, it usually translates into a solid season. If you have a bad training camp, it’s going to be a rocky season and we saw that with the Shock in 2009. We had players all over the place, we had injuries and it was tumultuous.
SLAM: Certainly, I know you won’t go into specifics, but can you give a general outline of your offensive and defensive philosophies?
Reeve: We start with our defense. In terms of what I’ve talked to a couple players about is the fact that we have to be far more help oriented than what I’ve seen on video. Sound defensive principles, the basics, providing more support and playing off our defense into our offense. I don’t like the ‘run-and-gun’ tag, but it is an area that I think we’re going to be successful in terms of open court. I see ‘run-and-gun’ as kind of gimmicky and everybody wants to say they’re a ‘run-and-gun’ team. We will push the pace, absolutely. We want to play off of our defense and get the easy baskets. That’s where Lindsay is going to be really helpful. Lindsay rebounds the ball and I’ve already told our bigs, ‘If you run the court, she will get you the basketball and we will score easily.’ I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it, but we don’t want to be taking the ball out of the net. We can’t take the ball out of the net and expect to score the easy ones, so it starts with getting the stops and pushing it out. Offensively, we have a lot of scorers.
What I’m really going to be big on is taking players and pulling out their strengths. I think that Candice Wiggins’ strength is shooting the three-ball. I need her to focus on taking those shots and doing what she does well, as opposed to putting the ball on the court and trying to create things. Charde and Nicky? Getting them early offensive opportunities on the box. I do like to pick-and-roll, I like Lindsay in transition situations and drag off the high pick. We’re not going to rewrite basketball.
SLAM: Is there any excuse your post players can give if their point guard outrebounds them?
Reeve: Well, I will say that Lindsay is a really good rebounding guard, which was really appealing to me…but there will be no excuse. No, really, it will be a big challenge for Nicky, Brunson and Charde. Four or five rebounds per 15 minutes played is the expectation. It has got to be a focus and the number one focus. I think Nicky will do well with that and I think Charde will too. Obviously, that’s what Brunson does in her sleep.
SLAM: With the depth on the team now, does Seimone’s role change at all?
Reeve: Her role doesn’t change in that we still need her to be our go-to player. I think what changes for her is the ease in which she’s going to be able to do it. What I like about the addition of Brunson for our guards is if you take a shot and miss, a lot of times she’s there for the pickup. What does Lindsay bring to Seimone? Timely delivery of the ball. This is going to be less of Seimone trying to find a shot. I think for Seimone, it’s going to be, ‘That was pretty easy.’
I think for her to is the idea of is she going to return to where she was before she was injured? Right before she was injured, she was playing some really, really good basketball and probably the best of her career. I think it would be unfair for us to say we want her to get right back to that, but Seimone is a great player and will always be a great player. Now, I’d like to challenge Seimone to her LSU defensive days and provide us a little bit more there. I know she can shoot in her sleep. Just watching her workout, she has some real physical gifts to be able to instinctively score the way she does. That’s not going to change.
SLAM: Through seeing Seimone working out and speaking with her, does she seem as if she’s on-track for training camp and the season?
Reeve: I talked to her personal trainer. We’re about six months out. By the time we get started, she’ll be nine months out. It’s really an advantageous situation for her that she didn’t have to accelerate and try to come back at six months. I like, for her, that she’ll have a full nine months. It’s hard to come back from, especially if you don’t have the full rehab. She’s definitely on time and, at six months, has the things she should have like a little bit of soreness, but she’s moving well.
SLAM: What will be your greatest strength as a coach?
Reeve: There are so many areas. Where do I start? Just kidding. What would be my greatest strength? You know, I think just clear direction. I’m pretty set in how to do this and I’ve been doing it long enough, so I think just being concise. I’m pretty strong-willed in how we’re going to go about our business.
SLAM: So, of course, what will adjustment to being a head coach may take the longest for you?
Reeve: I’ve thought about that and I think it will probably be things won’t happen as fast as I want them to early and I mean in training camp. The challenge will be to stay the course without frustration being too visible. I’ll be demanding, so there will be some days where I may want the frustration to be visible, but I’m pretty confident that they way we’re going to do things and the repetition that we’re going to have, that we’re going to get there. After our preseason game, you’ll see things get turned up a notch.
SLAM: How do you install a confidence, a swagger, into a team that hasn’t accomplished anything to this point?
Reeve: Oh, that’s my favorite thing. That’s exactly what I said when I spoke with Roger Griffith. I said, ‘Your team needs a swagger.’ You have to instill in them, every time you step on the court it’s an expectation to win the game. What’s different about that team over there and that team over there? It’s because of what we’re doing on a daily basis, we know what it takes to win the game and we’re going to put ourselves in position on a daily basis that when it comes time for the game, you’re going to see a swagger. We’re going to have a swagger because we know we’re going to be pretty darn good.
Pro sports, you know how it is. You can’t worry about last year, three years ago or five years ago. I don’t really care what happened. Media is going to come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re off to a 4-0 start. Can you sustain it? All these other years, they’d go 7-1 and then…” You know it’s going to happen. It really is a situation where I don’t care. The players may even talk about it, but I’m going to tell them that I don’t care about it. All I care about is what happens here and now and what we’re doing. I have no fears about, ‘Oh, they’ve never done anything.’ This is my time and this is a time for the Minnesota Lynx that the pieces are assembled. Everything has come together and it’s just going to be.
SLAM: What are your overall thoughts on Quanitra Hollingsworth? She’s still young, so can she develop into that shot-blocking center who starts the break for the team?
Reeve: I have to learn a lot more about Quanitra Hollingsworth because I only know her from afar. From evaluating her in college and seeing her up here a little, I know she’s a player that’s eager to do well. She’s a player that I want to simplify things for to do just those things you mentioned. Defend, block shots, make a simple drop-step on the offensive end, period.
She actually sent me about a three-paragraph email and it tells you a lot about a person. When I reached out to everyone and got their responses, I learned just from the way they responded. She’s a thinker. ‘Coach, some people are telling me I need to have all these moves and other people are telling me to do just one thing, but do it well.’ I said, “Q, my mantra here is going to be that it’s not that hard. You are 6’5”. You really only need one move. If you can drop-step and jump hook, Chasity Melvin has made a career of going over one shoulder for years.’ For the minutes she’s going to get, just keep it simple. I don’t want her to learn how to do this move and that move. She’s 21 and I have to learn about her, but that’s going to be the message to her.
SLAM: What does Candice Wiggins need to do to take the next step in her development?
Reeve: Same thing with Candice. Keep it simple. I think the loss of Seimone–I’m not going to say anything that is genius here–really hurt her in terms of all the players were elevated into situations that they’re not capable of. I don’t consider Candice in the category of a go-to player. She is a complimentary player. In terms of Lindsay Whalen’s addition to the team, it helps Candice tremendously. That’s one of the players you’re going to see benefit the most from adding Lindsay because Lindsay is so good at penetrating and kicking.
Candice Wiggins is so good at shooting the three-ball, of catch-and-shoot. Last year, she found herself in the situation of creating off the dribble and I think she learned a lot about it. At times she had success doing it. Her mid-range game needs to evolve, but I don’t necessarily see that happening this year because I want her to focus on catch-and-shoot. Not catch-and-shoot, but if it’s not there then drive. Catch-and-shoot and if it’s not there, make the next pass. We’re simplifying and not over-thinking or trying to take too much on. Seimone being there, Lindsay being there and Brunson being there all help her.
SLAM: I know you are a “best player available” person in the Draft. Most have an assumption as to whom will be the pick at number two. However, is there a position you hope would also be the best player available at the number three pick?
Reeve: Who are we taking at two?
SLAM: Everyone makes the assumption that it’s Jayne Appel.
Reeve: So, the assumption is that Jayne Appel is the second best player in the country? Interesting. I think Roger’s thought process in this since it’s his job is that we will take the best player available at two. If you look at when he’s had two first round picks, the second pick is a positional need. I’d like to see us with that high of picks to take best player available and best player available. If we go best player available at two and it happens to be a post, then three would probably be a guard so we could balance or vice versa. With the third pick, we have some positional needs in mind and it will add depth. We’re fairly set in the two and three spots.
SLAM: Are you going to shorten the rotation or should we expect to see most players in most games?
Reeve: I’m a shorter rotation person. I think you’ll see a solid eight players very consistently. Nine, ten and eleven will be more situational in a game like foul situations or somebody’s not there that night for whatever reason. Nine, ten and eleven will be limited to more back-to-back situations. I’d say a rotation of eight, nine at the most.
SLAM: What will be the biggest challenge in getting all of the talent on this year’s squad to mesh?
Reeve: Everybody tells me this is a really nice group. I want them to be nice, I want them to be good to each other, but on the court I want their edgiest possible sides. Any team that has won a championship will tell you the players understood their roles, they played their roles well and they didn’t care who got the attention. That is going to be the message. It’s the bigger prize that is most important. We don’t care if so-and-so is an All-Star. Collectively, if we achieve this, we all gain an infinite amount, not just the individual things. I think everybody will be on board, I think some roles may change a little bit, so there are going to be some challenges. Just the idea of being selfless.
SLAM: Are you a believer in sitting down with each player individually sometime during camp and explaining fully what their individual roles will be or do you like them to figure it out on their own?
Reeve: I don’t know if I’d communicate those type of details right off the bat. I’m an on-going communicator. After practice, coming into my office, next to me on the court and we’ll talk. I think it will be really obvious through what we do what their roles are, so on the court explanation of ‘We’re running X offense. Here’s what we’re trying to get out of it. This offense is for Seimone. Y Offense? This offense is for Nicky.’ Everyone is going to understand why we’re running that play, who that play is for and it will be obvious with the frequency we run certain things. If things don’t go well and it requires a team setting, then maybe I’d go that route, but I don’t expect that to happen.
SLAM: Anything in general you want to say to Lynx fans that you haven’t said already?
Reeve: I think they have a good feel for what I’m about. Expect a winning product. That’s what we’re here for. There’s no other reason to do it.