Cheryl Reeve: Coach of the Year?
Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve is finally seeing the results of her expectations and example.
By Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
There are many reasons for the success the Minnesota Lynx have had throughout the first half of the WNBA season. They are healthy, as players such as Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins have returned to pre-injury form. They have added more talent in players such as Maya Moore and veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin. They also have had great team chemistry on and off the court almost immediately, which makes way for another reason for their success, one which isn’t discussed as much.
“It’s good to have a coach here that we know and we understand where she’s coming from and where she’s trying to get us to,” said Seimone Augustus. “We’re on the same page and that’s a great thing.”
The main reason for that is the clarity of Reeve’s message to her team. They know who they are as a squad because she has demanded it of them from Day One of her time in Minnesota. The early success is great for the team and their fans, but Reeve continues to remind everyone that they are taking it one game at a time, focusing on the game in front of them and that game only. By doing so, there are also trends from her team where Reeve is placing her focus to make the Lynx even more intimidating to opponents and successful.
“I think it’s bench play and it’s bench opportunity,” said Reeve. “It’s a combination of both and one leads to the other. Quality play when they get their minutes leads to extended minutes and I think that’s going to be important as we really begin to start having game after game. All of our breaks are over. All of our three or four days in between for rest, those are gone. We’re going to start playing, travelling, playing, travelling and your bench become extremely important.”
The argument can be made a coach has an easy job when the roster consists of as much individual talent as the Minnesota Lynx have, but the inverse argument is just as strong. It takes the right coach to blend those talents into a team and where one can see the impact Reeve has on her players is the commitment to the defensive end of the court from a group of players most known for their offensive skills. While Reeve has done a fine job in accomplishing the team chemistry on the court, she also has the benefit of having the stereotypical ‘coach on the floor,’ allowing her voice to be heard on the court when her voice cannot be heard from the sidelines.
“Whay (Lindsay Whalen) is pretty feisty,” said Reeve. “I just think she’s playing really well right now, she’s so locked in and she had a great training camp. We’re coming off the court and she’s going to let them know that we either have to pick it up defensively or we have to get better on the offensive end, maybe we missed somebody, so I would say for the most part there’s a lot of chatter, but I think Whay is the one giving those glares and kind of getting on them a little bit.”
Whalen is a part of Reeve’s ‘leadership group,’ also consisting of Augustus, McWilliams-Franklin and Rebekkah Brunson. She has the benefit of discussion with her leaders on how certain situations should work, but make no mistake, in the end the final decision is up to Reeve. As Roger Griffith put the roster together, Reeve had discussions with him, team owner Glen Taylor, her assistant coaches and the players themselves on expectations of the now well-discussed and hyped Minnesota Lynx team. After taking all the input from the different sources, Reeve made her game plan for the summer of 2011 and made it crystal clear as to what the individual goals and team goals are, both in the immediate future and the long-term.
“Absolutely,” said Reeve without hesitation. “That’s what I like about them and I thought we got that pretty quick. We got that understanding really quick and really the commitment from them. That’s why I think we’re fun to watch, this team really likes each other and I think because of that understanding of who we want to be, that’s what you see. It’s pretty clear, whether it’s the rebounding, the defense or the efficiency on offense. It’s pretty clear and we hammer it home every day.”
Reeve knows her team is marked now by the rest of the WNBA, but because of her background, she isn’t afraid to take punches from opponents. She believes in her team and their ability to counter-punch.
“I don’t know that I necessarily see challenges,” said Reeve. “We’re just so motivated and focused on the day-to-day, so I think just kind of continuing the idea that you’re going into the break as the team with the best winning percentage and everybody knows it. We kind of felt that prior to the break we were getting team’s best efforts, so I would say, ‘be ready.’ You have a target on your back, but I think we already had that. The offseason kind of put us in a position where people talked about us a lot and, obviously, we had to go out and prove it because the Lynx have had a named roster before, but hadn’t been able to come through with anything. I think we’ve proven it, I think we’re doing what people expected and we just have to stay the course and continue to go one game at a time.”
Minnesota teams have had talent in the past, but couldn’t close games in the stretch. This year’s squad builds huge leads, has a small lapse and then builds the lead back. In their few close games, the Lynx have shown the ability to produce when the pressure is high. In a fantastic game in San Antonio over the weekend, the Lynx were able to come through in crunch time, winning by a basket by Whalen in the final seconds. The players may deserve the glory of moments such as these, but Cheryl Reeve also deserves mention for the preparation and winning attitude she has instilled in the team, as well as her focus in practice.
“We’ve been doing a lot more focusing on those possessions down the stretch of the games because we know that’s how things are going to go,” said Whalen. “We’re learning each other a little bit better. This is me and Seimone’s second year together, me and Brunson, Brunson and Seimone and now with Taj and Maya, I think we’re kind of learning each other a little bit like what people want to do in different situations and what play calls work for people. I think having that chemistry has helped as well.”
Reeve set the expectations upon her arrival in Minnesota last year and experienced some growing pains throughout injuries to key players as she began implementing her game plan last year. With a year together for a majority of the players, key additions and Reeve’s continued demand for high quality play, the Minnesota Lynx are treating their fans to a very fun summer.
“This is a team that has high expectations of themselves and when things don’t go our way, they’re talking to each other, they’re trying to fix things and that’s the sign of a great team,” said Reeve.
Candice Wiggins has a motto she has uttered numerous times throughout the early portions of the season where she states, ‘It takes teamwork to make this dream work.’ While that is only one small example, it clearly illustrates Reeve’s ability to find ways to have her players buy into what she is doing as their coach and what the expectations are for them as individuals and, more importantly, as a team. That is no small feat and if the Minnesota Lynx continue on as they have to this point, Reeve may very well deserve to be WNBA Coach of the Year.
Of course, Reeve would gladly give up that individual honor if her team could hoist the WNBA championship trophy into the air at the end of the season.