Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has been double-teaming rookie forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan all training camp, just not in the traditional sense.
Assistant coaches and former players Plenette Pierson and Rebekkah Brunson — champions who played with a fiery passion — have been charged with expediting Herbert Harrigan’s maturation.
“If she will listen, then she’ll have a shot, because I just think Rebekkah and Plenette have so many valuable things to say,” Reeve said. “All of that, to this point, has come to fruition.”
Because Herbert Harrigan has been “a sponge,” according to Reeve.
“I think she’s having a good time being coached by those two, and being challenged by us as a group,” Reeve said.
You’ll get no argument from the 6-foot-2 shot blocker out of South Carolina.
“It’s great working with them, watching film and just knowing that they’ve been in my position before, and they know a lot of stuff,” Herbert Harrigan said of Brunson and Pierson. “They’re really smart and know a lot about the game, so I’m just trying to soak in as much as I can from them.”
Herbert Harrigan has no shortage of mentors, which has added importance with this training camp, given its extraordinary circumstances. There are her coaches, there’s Lynx star center Sylvia Fowles — whose AAU team Herbert Harrigan played for growing up — and then there’s the boatload of former college teammates currently playing in the WNBA.
Herbert Harrigan said her former South Carolina teammates, including Las Vegas star A’Ja Wilson, have a group chat, and the “vets” with a year or two under their belts in the league have shown plenty of support for Herbert Harrigan and Dallas rookie guard Tyasha Harris.
While the current circumstances, participating in training camp in a “bubble” in Florida, may not seem optimal, Reeve thinks it can benefit young players such as Herbert Harrigan. What else is there to do all day other than focus on basketball?
“That’s really all you can do,” Herbert Harrigan said.
She’s been locked in for months now, ever since Minnesota drafted her sixth overall back in April. The Lynx opened their “virtual training camp” in May, which included a number of Zoom sessions that provided players the chance to get to know one another … and the playbook. It’s rare for WNBA rookies to get that kind of head start on the season.
Still, Herbert Harrigan said her biggest adjustment thus far in training camp is to the relative pace of the game.
“She’s a rookie. That’s my first impression,” Reeve said. “She has so much to learn. She’s typical of a rookie in that a certain pace she’s gone at has been effective for a few years, but it’s no longer effective, so understanding now how everyone in this league is great and she has to have another gear, another level of execution that she has to get to.”
She also has to mature physically. Reeve assumes Herbert Harrigan will always maintain a “slender” frame, but she best slots into the WNBA as a power forward, and any added strength is a bonus at that position. That will likely come as a natural byproduct of maturation for the 21-year-old.
But the things she already can do have been on display early in training camp. Reeve noted there are traits that carry over from college to the pro game. Turnovers and fouling are a couple of the negatives. Positives include rebounding and shot blocking. Do those in college, and you’re likely to also do them in the WNBA. Herbert Harrigan did plenty of both at South Carolina. How is that translating?
“Kiki has blocked more shots in training camp than she has done anything else,” Reeve said. “Her athleticism is elite.”
Herbert Harrigan shines on the defensive end, which is part of what makes her such a good fit in Minnesota. Eventually the rookie in the frontcourt with Fowles could making scoring a serious chore for opponents.
Reeve said Herbert Harrigan is “fun to coach.” Why?
“Because she responds well to getting riled up and getting challenged,” Reeve said. “She needs a motivation. She needs someone to kind of poke her a little bit.”
Pierson has specialized in providing that for the 6-foot-2 forward thus far, which has sparked some of the rookie’s “best moments,” per Reeve.
That’s just Herbert Harrigan living up to her nickname. In college, she earned the label “Mad Kiki,” particularly when she was at her best.
“She came from the games, just my competitive spirit,” Herbert Harrigan said of ‘Mad Kiki,’ as if it’s some sort of alter ego. “If someone scores on me, I get upset. It channels my inner mad Kiki, I guess.”
The more Mad Kiki the Lynx get this summer, the better.
“I told her, ‘What’s better for our team is mad Kiki, not mad Cheryl,’ ” Reeve said. “So we’re trying to get her into that place.”