Heart of a Champion

She sets screens that allow Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore to get around a defender and attack the basket. She rebounds any missed threes by Lindsay Whalen. And in 18.8 minutes of play a night, Devereaux Peters has blocked 33 total shots, perhaps her biggest contribution to the Minnesota Lynx.

“I’m the filler,” Peters said. “I try to come in and fill whatever role needs to be filled.”

Peters may not yet be a household name in the WNBA, but the 6-2 second-year reserve forward is an integral piece to the league-best Lynx, who hold a 25-7 record heading into playoffs.

“We have so many amazing players and All-Stars on the team who get a lot of the focus and attention, so I have the space to try and figure out where I fit in,” she said.

Peters makes the most of her minutes because she knows what it’s like to have them taken away. After a promising start to her freshman season at Notre Dame in 2008, she was projected to become one of the top post players in the Big East.

Then she tore the ACL in her left knee twice in the span of 10 months. The first tear was season-ending, but the second tear threatened to be career-ending. She watched half of her college career pass her by from the bench.

“I really questioned if I wanted to keep playing,” she said. “Mentally, trying to come back, was really tough for me. Rehab is the worst part of it and I didn’t know if I wanted to go through it all again.”

Not being on the court hurt more than the pain in her knee. She missed team huddles, long film sessions and even running a set of lines. But most of all, she missed blocking shots.

“The energy you get when you block someone, how the crowd gets all hyped, and you get your team all excited. That’s my favorite feeling in the world,” she said. “That half a second that you get to see them defeated.”

She needed that thrill back.

Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, who also tore her ACL twice playing for the Fighting Irish, had never seen a player work as tirelessly as Peters did to recover.

“She could have been done, she could have given up on herself, but she worked so hard in the weight room to get back,” Ivey said. “She has amazing drive, and because of that she was able to come back and really reach her potential.”

Exceeding expectations, Peters became a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, leading Notre Dame to two consecutive Final Four appearances. As a senior she averaged 11.8 points (on 54.4 percent from the field), 9.3 rebounds and 2 blocks a contest.

She’s just the second player in program history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 150 blocks and 150 steals. She remains second all-time in blocked shots (227) and fifth in rebounds (937).

The Lynx, coming off of a championship in 2011, selected Peters third overall in the 2012 WNBA draft.

“I remember sitting at the draft table and thinking, What? They’re picking me?” she said. “After all I went through, it was unbelievable to be picked that high by such a successful team.”

She fits in well with Minnesota’s dynamic. Each player on the 11-woman roster is expected to come into the game and either sustain a lead or help cut a deficit. Sometimes reserves have even bigger roles. The prime example would be reserve Monica Wright, who came off the bench in Game 2 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals to hit the game-winning three against the Sparks, sending Minnesota to the Finals.

Yet after losing 3-1 to the Indiana Fever for the title, the Lynx will rely on Peters for energy off the bench as the 2013 postseason approaches.

She hasn’t disappointed so far. Peters had 7 or more rebounds nine times, including two double-digit rebounding games. She’s also had 2 or more blocks 12 times, notching a career-high 4 blocks against San Antonio (July 19).

Her best game of the season came against the second-seeded Sparks (June 28), where she posted 14 points, 9 rebounds (6 of which were offensive) in 25 minutes of play. The Lynx won 88-64.

“Devereaux’s greatest value, and the reason why we drafted her, is because she’s a possession player,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “She gets her hands on a lot of balls, gets a lot of deflections and offensive rebounds. For a second-year player, she does some veteran-like things.

“She’s unselfish, and we value that with our group because we have three Olympians and four All-Stars. We needed somebody that didn’t mind playing their role, that wasn’t going to have the ball in their hands all the time or have plays run for them, and she’s been playing that role very well for us.”

Starting forward and nine-year veteran Rebekkah Brunson has been a mentor to Peters. When Brunson needs a breather, Peters comes in the game and gives her relief for a few minutes. The two often push each other throughout practice.

“Dev gives us everything she has every time she comes on the court,” Brunson said. “If we need to get rebounds, we know we can look to her and she’ll go out there and get it done. She’s doing everything she needs to do to get better. We have a lot of respect for her.

“I think she’s going to be a great post player in this league.”

Every time Peters checks in at the scorer’s table, she looks down at the brace on her knee and is reminded to not take any minute on the floor for granted.

“That brace is kind of part of my body now,” she said. “I feel naked without it. I have to put it on to play. It’s part of my routine. It’s part of who I am.”