Minnesota Lynx Celebrate, Then Move On
The reigning champs raised their banner and received their rings; last year is officially over.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Before officially tipping off their 2012 regular season, the Minnesota Lynx took a moment to look back at their 2011 season, a year in which they grabbed the WNBA championship. In a pregame ceremony, they finally received their championship rings and raised their banner to the rafters at Target Center to commemorate their accomplishment.
“It was awesome,” said Maya Moore. “I think we’ve been waiting so long. We were able to have a really great parade last year and pep rally for the fans just to kind of come in and finish the season off, but then we were off to our overseas seasons. It was a quick ending, so to come back and remember what we did last year after seven months was really special. That banner looks really good up there.”
There were a lot of emotions flowing, especially after the game when the players really had their first opportunity to look at the rings closely and slip them on their fingers. Each of the players who made up the championship roster last year had unique and beautiful stories of finally achieving the goal of a WNBA championship and each enjoyed the moment in the same unique ways.
“It feels so good,” said Candice Wiggins. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was 5 years old. I’ve never felt like this before. My dad had a World Series ring. Not to get too emotional, but he did have a World Series ring and things on Earth don’t last forever, but this means so much because nobody can take away what you have earned. I just feel his spirit with me and it feels great. It’s great. This is a joyful moment for me.”
As is their usual style, the Lynx enjoyed the moment, but also knew there was work to do, both in their game against the Phoenix Mercury Sunday and moving forward in their quest to repeat. This was just the final step of the celebration of last year’s achievement, but it is exactly that…last year’s accomplishment. They have the same goal this year and know it will be much more difficult this time around, so they had to get their minds back into the present quickly.
“It can be hard just because you’re not going straight from the locker room to going out and playing,” said Moore. “It’s locker room, go out, come back in, go out, do the whole ceremony, get excited and then try to get it back a little bit. As athletes, we’re big on routine and sometimes when you throw something in there, it can be tough. Still, we have some room for improvement and we want to start out games better than that.”
This is a team that no matter how greatly they dominate their opponent, they are never satisfied. While it may be impossible to play a perfect game that is a goal of the Minnesota Lynx and the only way to do so is to always be brutally honest in your self-assessment.
“It’s the same stuff we had issues with the practice men,” said Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “Being a step quicker in our defensive rotations, everyone boxing out all the way through the end where we get the rebound, outlet and then we take off running. Tipping deflections and things Coach Reeve talked about, we all agree we need to work on those things.”
They know they are in the fortunate situation of having so much talent they can nit-pick. After all, these self-criticisms come after 22-point victory.
“You can work on anything after you win,” said Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “That’s easy to work on. Things you need to sharpen, things you need to change, things you need to work harder on, so overall we won and really, at the end of the day, that’s all you want. There’s less things to work on when you win.”
The Minnesota Lynx are a team full of bright spots, but the Lynx continue to develop their young players. With Candice Wiggins and Jessica Adair leading their “Bench Mob” heading into the season, another player had an incredible preseason and that makes their team even more dangerous. Monica Wright seems to have learned many lessons from her veteran teammates last year and is taking her game to the next level in 2012.
“It’s just how I play, but I guess I can give a lot of credit to my teammates,” said Wright. “They make it very easy for me, the coaches have confidence in me and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me also. This is just a great group. Mentally, they give you so much information. Having these veterans around is just so helpful. They’re always teaching, never a dull moment and your always being able to learn and get better.”
Being in the fortunate situation to nit-pick while dominating, as well as developing players like Wright who is already quite talented is something most other teams in the WNBA envy. Of course, the Minnesota Lynx don’t care about other squads, just themselves, and know what they need to do to continue their domination.
“Just continue to be a solid defensive and rebounding team,” said Moore. “Making sure we’re confident in our rotations and communicating, which will all get better. I’m confident that we’ll get those problems fixed because it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and fixed before, so it’s good. That will keep us hungry and focused in this long season and we know what we need to do.”
Again, this is after a 22-point win to open up the regular season as the defending champions. Quite simply, the Minnesota Lynx are not resting on their championship laurels from last year. This year is a new season and a new atmosphere. Adding to that new atmosphere in Minnesota is a new court, a floor worthy of having the defending champions play on it as they begin their road to repeat.
“A new floor, so when you hit it, there’s no give, so a lot of players out there have a gimp from the floor,” said McWilliams-Franklin. “We have some scrapes and bruises that we wouldn’t have had from before, but because it’s new, that new coating that’s on it still has to be worn down a little bit from us running. It’s only the second time we’ve been on it, so I just hit it on the floor on the side where there’s no kneepad, of course, no cushion. We’ll get it together, us and the floor.”
A banner hanging in the rafters to commemorate their championship season last year, a new home court and shiny championship rings on their fingers? The Minnesota Lynx are happy about all of it.
“I just can’t stop looking at it,” said Wright. “It’s hypnotizing me.”
That was yesterday. The Minnesota Lynx enjoyed their special day and now it’s time to put the past in the past. The future is the road to repeat, a road they believe they are on right now.
photos by Matthew Fleegel