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Everything, of course, has changed.

Napheesa Collier was in town last week on one of her scheduled offseason trips back to Minnesota. Her daughter Mila — not yet 1 year old — came with her.

The Lynx forward missed much of last season after giving birth in May. Determined to get back on the court with Sylvia Fowles before the All-Star center's final season ended, Collier made it back for four games at season's end. She wasn't yet 100%, but she was 100% committed to being with her friend.

When the 2023 season begins in May it will be, basically, two years since fans have seen Collier, the All-Star and Olympian, at her peak. And she can hardly wait.

But things have changed.

"It still feels like basketball,'' said Collier, a necklace with her daughter's name around her neck. "It's the game I've always loved. And I still come at it with the same intensity and focus and level of commitment I've always had. But there is also an order to things now. A hierarchy. And Mila is at the top of that. I still get workouts in, I work at basketball. But the rest of the day is dedicated to her.''

A lot will change with the Lynx. Last season, for the first time since 2010, the team failed to make the playoffs. Fowles, who remains in constant contact with Collier, has retired. The Lynx have the second overall pick in the draft in April, as well as the 12th. There will be action in free agency.

When training camp commences next spring there will be new faces. And, presumably, a new leader, a new face of the franchise.


It's hard for her to imagine how quickly things have changed. Just four years ago she was a rookie being shown the ropes by veterans Seimone Augustus and Fowles, who the team lovingly referred to as "Mama Syl.''

Now Collier will be the mentor. Collier said that, in college at UConn, her teammates used to call her "Mama Phee." With the Lynx, she will be, both literally and figuratively.

"It's a really big honor,'' she said. "And I take it seriously. There is so much responsibility, but it's so cool. I'm excited to make this my team, to take on more leadership. I knew at some point Syl would be leaving and the torch would be passing to me. And I don't know if it's because of Mila, but I feel so much more mature and confident in myself and able to take on this responsibility.''

Looking ahead

Collier is not daunted by the pending changes on the roster. More than ever, that has become the norm in the WNBA. And she is confident in the culture on the team that starts with Cheryl Reeve, the president of basketball operations and coach.

"That's what I'm least worried about,'' Collier said. "We have a great group of women who make sure you're welcome right away. Chemistry is the most important part.''

Collier's favorite season was in 2020, when the league played its games in the bubble in Florida because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lynx overachieved and finished fourth in the league mainly, Collier said, because of the team's chemistry.

Right now Collier is focused on getting back to 100%, a process that can take a year after giving birth. She and husband Alex Bazzell — a skills trainer for WNBA and NBA players — are based in New Jersey. For the first time in a long time Collier has been able to focus on her training and skills. She played overseas during the offseason after her first couple seasons, and was pregnant last year.

"I'm hoping to make a really big leap,'' she said.

Collier has been working on her three-point shot, her ball-handling skills.

She said she's looking forward to the structure of the season: "I'm excited to get back to that. I haven't been able to play for so long, and be around my team in that full sense. I can't wait.''

Dual roles

Mila will likely travel to most games with Collier next season. She and her husband hired his sister as a nanny, who will spend the summer in Minnesota.

On the court, Collier will try to shepherd the team the way Fowles did.

She feels ready. Being a parent has given her life a new order, a hierarchy. But it's also given her more motivation.

"I want to do better now,'' she said. "For myself, because I want to win. And for [Mila] because I want to support her the best way I can. I want her to be surrounded by my teammates, to see what I'm doing on the court, for her to reap the benefits of the love on the team, to see her mother be successful.

"So it's like you want to be good for different reasons now.''