Former UConn star Collier learning how tough WNBA is during rookie season

Published on Friday, 14 June 2019 21:09
Written by CARL ADEMAC


WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - The way Napheesa Collier started her WNBA career was like she had never left the University of Connecticut.

But the ups and downs of a rookie have already become a part of the Minnesota Lynx’s 2019 first-round draft pick’s season through the first seven games of the year.

Her 27-point performance in a win over the Chicago Sky with former teammates Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams on May 25 was the second-best total for a debut in WNBA history. But in Wednesday night’s loss to the New York Liberty at the Westchester Sports Center here, the 6-foot-1 forward was just 1-for-7 from the floor for two points and three rebounds.

“There are obviously things that I want to fix, being more consistent with the shots I’m making and taking,” Collier said. “That’s why I’m getting into the gym. I want to continue to make threes and things like that. I’m happy but there are a lot of things that I need to get better at.”

Another adjustment for Collier is in the win-loss column. The Lynx are 4-3 heading into tonight’s game with the Connecticut Sun (6-1) at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Collier didn’t suffer her third career loss at UConn until Game 124. Minnesota has lost back-to-back games, which the Huskies did not do during Collier’s time, and haven’t done since 3½ years before she was born.

But the 22-year-old believes that four years with Geno Auriemma, his staff, and her teammates prepared her for professional life.

“I think it did, especially mentally and that’s the biggest transition, college to pros,” Collier said. “Obviously, physically, everyone’s stronger and bigger. But mentally, you have to be tough and know what you’re doing. We have a short amount of time to learn the offense. Coach obviously expected us at UConn to be mentally checked in, so training myself there in those four years really helped transition to this.”

At UConn, Collier played in all 150 games and started the last 112, the fourth-longest streak in UConn history. She finished with 2,401 points, 1,219 rebounds, 373 assists, 230 steals, and 251 blocked shots. As a senior, she became the first UConn player since Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo 25 years earlier to average a double-double. The two-time All-American and AAC Player of the Year ranks third in points, fourth in rebounds, third in field-goal percentage, and seventh in blocked shots all-time at UConn. She is one of five players in UConn’s 2,000/1,000 club.

Her final college game was the April 5 loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Final Four semifinals in Tampa, Florida. Five days later, she was taken by the Lynx (sixth overall) in the WNBA Draft.

“It was quick,” Collier said. “I went to Los Angeles and trained. I got to Minnesota a couple days before training camp started and since it’s just been getting into the gym and figuring out my new position.

“I really like Minnesota. There’s a bunch of stuff to do around our practice facility and our apartments so it’s really cool.”

She received her bachelor’s degree from UConn on May 11 and two weeks later was 8-for-10 from the floor and 8-for-11 from the foul line in her debut against Chicago.

“I was excited, especially playing against Lou and Gabby, the ones I was closest to on the team,” Collier said.

She’s had two other double-figure games in losses to the Seattle Storm and the Los Angeles Sparks. Throw out those two games and she’s 4-for-21 from the floor in her last three games.

Collier leads the Lynx in minutes played (31.7) and is third in scoring (11.7) and fourth in rebounds (4.7). She is shooting 45.8 percent from the floor, 28.6 percent from 3-point land (she’s just 1 for her last 11 from behind the arc), and 81.5 percent from the foul line.

She has spent most of her time playing the 3 (small forward) position, which is also an adjustment from her college days.

“It’s not completely different. I’m getting a lot of the same shots inside that I was in college,” Collier said. “The 3-point shot is the biggest thing offensively. Defensively is about getting up on them and really guarding them. I’m on the perimeter. That was hard mentally since you’re always worried about getting beat. We have great help.

“Just being able to shoot that will allow me to be able to do more things, like getting to the basket or posting up if I’m more of a threat outside.”

Collier said she talks to Auriemma and UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey every couple of weeks and has been in touch with Samuelson since her Huskies’ classmate has been sidelined with a broken right wrist.

As the youngest player on the Lynx roster and a rookie she deals with rookie-type things, for example, being the last in line to try halfcourt shots at the end of shootaround. When Minnesota assistant general manager Clare Duwelius punted a ball in the balcony seats here Wednesday, it was Collier who went upstairs to retrieve it. She loves being around her coaches and teammates.

“They were so welcoming and made the transition as easy as possible,” Collier said. “All of us … Now I feel like I’m a part of the team. Well, except for when I had to go get that kicked ball.”

She added that the best part of being a pro was not going to school. She is also aware that freshman Anna Makurat from Poland will wear her uniform No. 24 this coming season.

And Collier is fine with that.

“She did not ask me, but she better fill my 24,” Collier said with a smile.

Collier will visit Connecticut once this summer when the Lynx face the Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 6.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Friday, 14 June 2019 21:09. Updated: Friday, 14 June 2019 21:11.