Temi Fagbenle, Alexis Jones step up for Lynx
When it comes to players off the bench, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve opened training camp a little more than a week ago with some certainties. She pretty much knew what to expect from veteran guards Tanisha Wright and Danielle Robinson, and forward Lynetta Kizer.
After that? Prove it.
So far, both Temi Fagbenle and Alexis Jones have done so.
Both are entering their second WNBA seasons, both are coming off confidence-boosting stints in Europe, and both are hoping theyll do a little more playing, a little less sitting on the bench, this season.
Born into a Nigerian family and raised in England, Fagbenle started playing basketball relatively late. She played college basketball at Harvard and then, for a season while in graduate school, at USC before being taken in the third round of the 2016 WNBA draft.
After taking a year off from basketball to finish her graduate degree, she came to Lynx camp last season as a very athletic 6-4 center with tons of potential and tons to learn. And then she sat and watched, averaging only 4.2 minutes in 21 games. She showed the ability to play physically, but was foul-prone.
But a winter starring for a team in Poland appears to have changed her.
Im more confident, Fagbenle said. I always had the skills, it was just about the confidence. Confidence from my coaches and teammates, also confidence in myself.
Playing for CCC Polkowice, she led her team in scoring (15.3), making 60.5 percent of her shots and averaging 6.2 rebounds per game. She was named MVP of the Polish League finals.
She returned to Minnesota last week not a lock to make the team. But her play in practice and the first preseason game has all but assured her a spot.
Reeve said her personal maturity allows Fagbenle to grow on the court. She takes coaching well, and she has had a good camp. Reeve sees a 25-year-old with confidence.
Still, earning minutes will be difficult. Reeve likely doesnt see much opportunity for Fagbenle to play alongside starting WNBA MVP center Sylvia Fowles much. That means, ideally, Fagbenle would carve out eight to 10 minutes a game, with this mandate: Simple. Defending without fouling and dont turn the ball over, Reeve said.
Fagbenle said it took her a half-season in Poland to really find her groove, but then things took off. I understood I could play, she said. I can ball out. And thats what I did. I hope I can come here and do that as much as possible.
Fagbenle, who has had occasional difficulty with sore knees, played last season at 200 pounds. Shes down to 178, with more muscle. And the knee pain has vanished.
Jones had more opportunity than Fagbenle as a rookie. She appeared in 29 games, shooting 37.9 percent on three-pointers. Over the final eight games, with Lindsay Whalen injured, Jones averaged 5.5 points and 14.1 minutes.
Playing in Spain and Israel over the winter, she scored 23.1 points per game for her Spanish team, then moved to Isreal and averaged 15.1 points for Elitzur Ramla, which advanced to the Israeli league finals.
With Reeve planning on a lot of three-guard sets, Jones could get more opportunity. In particular, her ability to shoot threes is something the Lynx need.
The Lynx cut forwards Jill Barta and Breanna Richardson, and center Vionise Pierre-Louis. Barta, a former Gonzaga standout, was a third-round pick by Las Vegas in April and was a draft night acquisition by the Lynx. Richardson was also with the Lynx in training camp last year, and Pierre-Louis was a free agent signee out of Oklahoma.
Reeve said while players are not missing practices, several have minor aches and pains that have forced her to modify her practices a bit and could affect how many minutes some of the starters play in Saturdays preseason finale against Chicago at Target Center.
Maya Moore is expected to return to Minnesota on Friday. Shell be at Saturdays game, but wont play.