ST. PAUL — Napheesa Collier got up on stage Monday, Sept. 16, accepted her WNBA Rookie of the Year trophy from league commissioner Cathy Engelbert, said about 75 seconds worth of thank-yous, then started to make her way back down the steps.
That’s when she was informed she needed to stick around and take a few questions from the media.
“I thought it was over,” she said with a smile.
“That’s Phee,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said later. “She doesn’t see what she’s done. She appreciates it, definitely, but she doesn’t know the magnitude of what she just accomplished.
“She was like, I’m ready to go home, I have (my award) now.”
The Lynx’s unassuming, yet determined forward took the league by storm in her first professional season. While forever a team player, she wasn’t afraid to admit this was a personal goal of hers.
She earned it.
Collier received 29 votes for the honor, announced Monday by the league, more than doubling the 14 received by Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale. The Lynx rookie out of UConn led the WNBA in minutes per game, playing 33.3 minutes a night.
Collier became the fourth player in league history to tally at least 400 points, 200 rebounds, 75 assists, 50 steals, 25 blocks and 25 three-pointers in a season, joining an elite club that consists of Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings and Sheryl Swoopes.
As she progressed throughout the season, her impact grew. On the court, she continued to grow as a perimeter defender, and her scoring skyrocketed. Over Minnesota’s final 15 games, Collier was the Lynx’s scoring leader (15.7 points), despite having the team’s fifth-highest usage percentage (18.3).
She also evolved as a leader, finding her voice as the season progressed. The rookie seized opportunities to direct and inspire when needed.
Because of that, the Lynx overshot the expectations of many. Without the likes of Moore, Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson, and with Augustus missing a large chunk of the season due to injury, Minnesota was supposed to take several steps back and miss the playoffs. That didn’t happen, largely because of Collier.
The rookie didn’t just establish herself as one of the best players in her draft class, but in the league at-large. In Collier, Reeve said the Lynx knew they were getting a great player for years to come. That great player blossomed in a matter of months.
In Year 1, Collier became an all-star and solidified herself as one of the league’s top talents for the foreseeable future. For that, Reeve credits Collier’s will power and want to. Forget skill level, that’s what the coach thinks stars are made of.
“That’s exactly who Napheesa Collier is,” Reeve said. “Anything that we asked of her, she immediately did. Those are things that are hard to find in players, especially younger players, because it takes them a while to figure out. At no point and time did Napheesa think that she was better than anybody else, she just went to work every day and said, ‘My team needs me.’ ”
The 22-year-old is the guiding light for the Lynx’s future. She’s the reason Minnesota’s rebuild lasted for, oh, maybe a few months. With one of the league’s best young players in tow, it’s not a stretch to think the Lynx could re-enter championship contention sooner than later.
“It is a blessing for us to have a player that is going to be at the center of what we’re doing, that has the humility and the confidence,” Reeve said. “That is going to make her special for a long time to come.”
That’s a lot more than what you’re supposed to get from the No. 6 pick in the WNBA draft. Things, as Augustus said, always seem to fall the Lynx’s way.
“She will probably end up being the best, all-time, No. 6 pick,” Reeve said. “She’s raised the bar, but yeah, sometimes you’ve got to get lucky, and that’s what happened. We’re fortunate that things fell the way they did.”