Lynx forward Napheesa Collier walked up the steps to the podium Monday morning, accepted her Rookie of the Year trophy from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, spent all of 77 seconds thanking everybody she could think of, then proceeded to walk off the stage.
Collier is the league’s best rookie. Down the stretch of the season, she was the Lynx’s best player. Over the course of 34 games she played more minutes than anyone in the league, flipping seamlessly between the two forward positions. And yet it didn’t occur to her any of the assembled media might want to ask a question or two. Aaron Freeman, the team’s basketball communications manager, had to hurry over and tell Collier to get back to the podium.
This, in a nutshell, is Collier.
Talented but humble. Convinced she deserved the trophy she was holding in her hand while not thinking anyone would want to ask her about it.
“That’s Phee,” said Seimone Augustus. “She doesn’t see what she’s done. She appreciates it, but doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of what she just accomplished, the people she now shares history with.”
Collier joined Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings and Sheryl Swoopes as the only players in league history — player, not just rookie — to complete a season with at least 400 points, 200 rebounds, 75 assists, 25 blocks and 25 three-pointers made.
Don’t be fooled, though. Collier is humble, but driven. Asked weeks ago if she felt she deserved this award, she said yes.
Monday? “It was the goal I set for myself in the beginning of the year,” said Collier, who also took Associated Press rookie of the year honors last week. “And something that I worked really hard for throughout the year.”
Collier received 29 out of 43 votes from a panel of WNBA writers and broadcasters. Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale received the other 14 votes.
Rounding out the all-rookie team were Indiana center Teaira McCowan, Las Vegas guard Jackie Young and Phoenix forward Brianna Turner.
Collier joins Augustus (2006), Moore (2011) and Betty Lennox (2000) as Lynx winners of the award.
Coach Cheryl Reeve said she knew the Lynx were getting a good player at No. 6 in the draft but didn’t expect the magnitude of Collier’s first season.
“She has a will, a want-to, in terms of how hard she plays,” Reeve said. “Any time you have that as a base, you can be anything you want to be.”
Augustus saw that early, one of the reasons she mentored Collier all season, grooming her to be the next face of the franchise.
Collier, of course, deflected credit. She thanked the Lynx organization, coaches, her teammates, the training and equipment staff, the public relations department, her parents and boyfriend. “This award means a lot to me,” she said. “I feel really honored to receive it, be in the company with names like Seimone over there. This draft class is extremely talented, and it was one heck of a race — a little too close for my liking, to be honest. But this is just the beginning for us.”
To be fair, there is one area of her game that needs work. The Lynx love Collier’s poise on the court, her will, her ability to not let difficult times get to her. Now they would like to see her work on her trash talking. A few weeks back in a game against Indiana, Fever guard Betnijah Laney was yapping at Collier, who didn’t respond. Laney kept at it until Collier finally just turned, smiled and gave Laney the thumbs up. The Lynx coaches and players still laugh about it.
Maybe that’s just Phee. Confident but quiet.
Asked about this a while back, Collier smiled. “I definitely need to work on that,” she said. “Because I can’t think of a reply quick enough. That’s my problem, so I just get stuck. I don’t know what to say.”
Her play this season talked enough.
But: “I’ll work with her,” Augustus promised.