Napheesa Collier and Cheryl Reeve met this offseason, and their talk may have changed the course of Collier's career and the Lynx franchise.
Collier is not the first Lynx player to have that kind of conversation with Reeve, or the first high-profile Minnesota athlete to peak after a summit meeting. Justin Morneau, LaTroy Hawkins, Anthony Edwards and Lindsay Whalen are among the many others.
On Sunday, Collier, playing despite back pain, had 26 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block while producing a game-best plus-11 rating in the Lynx's 82-75 upset victory at Connecticut, forcing a decisive Game 3 on Wednesday at Target Center.
Collier was an All-Star (2019, 2021) and Olympic gold medalist (Tokyo) before missing most of last season while pregnant. Reeve met with her after last season and told her not only that she could be even better but how she could become better.
"We had a conversation before the season, just letting me know that, as a sole captain, she's just telling me all that comes with that and that I need to take more responsibility,'' Collier said earlier this summer.
Collier responded by producing a career-best 21.5 points per game this season while playing her best against the best competition, just as she did on Sunday against Connecticut's physical defenders. She was named the AP co-Comeback Player of the Year last week (sharing the award with Brittney Griner). She won't win MVP, but she's mentioned in those conversations.
Collier's improvement hasn't been as dramatic as Morneau's in 2006. An affable young athlete, he had enjoyed the big league lifestyle, especially when he traveled to Seattle and rejoined friends from his youth in British Columbia.
The Twins were in Seattle in the early days of June 2006. Morneau, a top hitting prospect, had been a disappointment. He entered the Mariners series batting .241.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called Morneau to a meeting in his office. The gist of his message: You can be a great player, or you can have a great time, but you can't do both.
From May 1 through the end of the season, Morneau hit .358 with 23 home runs and a 1.015 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He became the American League MVP.
This spring, Edwards had a goal-setting conversation with Chris Hines, his player development coach with the Timberwolves. Edwards told him he wanted to be the best shooting guard ever. Hines told him that Michael Jordan held that title. Edwards said he was well aware. Then Edwards became the best player and leader on the U.S. team at the World Cup.
In 2010, Reeve and the Lynx traded for Whalen. She was an All-Star player, but she was not considered a likely candidate for Team USA's dominant Olympic team.
"Cheryl was willing to have a conversation with me that was probably hard for her at the time, saying, 'You've got to really hone in on your fitness and nutrition,' " Whalen told me last summer. "I was in my seventh year in the league. I had been runner-up for MVP. I had played in two finals and made first-team All-WNBA. I was already good-slash-great. She wanted to know if I wanted to be great-slash-elite.
"From that point on, I lost 10 pounds during the season and started working extra before and after practice, and my shooting percentage went up. She made me uncomfortable, in the right way. We missed the playoffs that year, but from that point on, I made Team USA and won a championship — WNBA, national team, in Europe — every year through 2017.''
Hawkins' ERA through five big league seasons was 6.16. During one of his lowest moments, Twins manager Tom Kelly called him into his Metrodome office.
"TK was a little rough, man, especially for guys who had never had a tough coach,'' Hawkins said recently. "For me, coming from my background and Gary, Indiana, he was right up my alley. I thought that when someone got after you, that meant they cared.
"He called me in, and I thought, 'Uh, oh.' Then he said, 'LaTroy, you keep doing what you're doing. As long as I'm here, I want you here. But if I see you stop working, you're out of here because the guys upstairs, that's what they want — they want you out of here.'
"I didn't know if that was a good or a bad meeting when I came out of there. But TK saw more in me than I saw in myself, and I didn't want to let him down.''
Hawkins would pitch for 21 years in the majors and become one of the game's best ambassadors, thanks, in part, to a quiet behind-the-scenes chat.