Cheryl Reeve stated the major positive to come from the WNBA’s announcement Monday, June 15, that the league will play out the entirety of its 2020 season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“We’re going to play basketball,” the Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “I think from a player standpoint, that’s been really big. … There’s still really a lot of unknowns.”
Some of those could be unearthed by the Lynx’s staff soon. Assistant general manager Clare Duwelis and head athletic trainer Chuck Barta were in Bradenton looking at the site Thursday, allowing the team to get a clearer picture of how things will look in Florida.
Who will be there? Well, that’s still a bit unknown.
Former Lynx guard Renee Montgomery, now with Atlanta, is sitting out the season to continue to focus on social justice reform, a precedent set a season ago by Maya Moore. Reeve thinks players will have “a lot of respect” for Montgomery’s decision.
Minnesota announced Wednesday that forward Ceci Zandalasini will not play this season, as the Italian sharpshooter cited the uncertainty in the world to Reeve as a primary motive to sit out the summer. Reeve thought as recently as last week that Zandalisini would be on the roster when the team tipped off in July. She thinks the rest of the team will make the trip, but wouldn’t be shocked if that changed.
“I think, ultimately, it’s that next big step of booking your ticket and actually saying, ‘Now I’ve got to start packing and getting ready,’ that forces you to maybe come to realize maybe you were having some apprehension about it,” Reeve said. “It’s really important that none of us be surprised by any decision that might come from this as you start to really get closer to having to join your team and make a go of this. Your family is involved. Would I be surprised if we might have more (who don’t play)? No. And none of us should be surprised by that.”
Reeve did say the WNBA is making all of its decisions with safety at the top of mind.
“There’s no way we want to do this unless we can put our best foot forward,” Reeve said.
With that in mind, Reeve said it’s on everyone — players and coaches included — to help keep the on-site bubble safe. No one can be dismissive or lax when it comes to the protocols in place. Reeve said she would encourage WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to have a “zero-tolerance policy” in Bradenton. Any violations of protocols, and “you’re out of the bubble.”
“That’s the only way to ensure our best chance for the most safety for everyone who’s going to be there,” Reeve said.
Overall, Reeve said players were excited to get back on the floor with one another. She said players will go to their home markets for physicals and such before heading to Bradenton. Training camp will be shorter than usual, which matters considering the regular season will be shortened to 22 games, not giving teams time to slip out of the starting blocks. While there won’t be fans — which will certainly provide a different atmosphere than what teams like the Lynx have developed in terms of home-court environment — Reeve thinks the competitive juices will begin flowing once the ball is tipped, and everything will take care of itself.
Reeve suggested the season’s structure will provide a sense of urgency, and some entertaining television.
“I’m excited for our fans to be able to see that,” she said.
And perhaps experience it from all angles. She noted players are continuing to connect with fans on different levels, putting their personalities and talents on display through different avenues. Reeve said the idea of a player-driven reality show from Bradenton has been kicked around.
As for the games, Reeve hopes those are readily available for all hoping to view them.
“I’m really hopeful that ESPN, CBS Sports, many outlets that we could be on, (Fox Sports North) here locally, it’s a tremendous opportunity to fill the airwaves with the WNBA, and let’s see what happens,” she said. “I think that could be a really interesting way to possibly grow our business, that we’re more accessible and (people) being able to see us. … Because I think it will be consumed.”
Citing the “significant financial impact” the coronavirus has had on the organization, the Timberwolves and Lynx laid off 18 employees and implemented a “temporary tiered pay reduction plan” for employees with an annual salary of more than $70,000.