By Amy Tennery
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Napheesa Collier fended off fierce competition to become the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year on Monday, with the Minnesota Lynx standout capping a prolific season in which she logged 444 regular season points with an early-career accolade.
Collier exploded into the league in a season-opener against Chicago that saw the first-round draft pick score 27 points, the second-most ever by a player in a WNBA debut.
The 22-year-old, a college star at UConn, told Reuters the performance helped her move past a disappointing pre-season.
“I definitely took a second to appreciate it because I didn’t feel like I played well in the pre-season games,” Collier said, reflecting on the 89-71 season-opening win.
“I was just going out there to have fun and let loose and I think that’s what allowed me to play well because I was kind of wound up in those other pre-season games. Having not a great pre-season – pre-season games – I knew I had to step up my game.”
Collier kept the momentum going and carved out her position with the team early, as the Lynx brought on a raft of young talent in a bid to recapture glory after winning the WNBA title in 2017 but losing in the first round of the play-offs in 2018.
“A lot of people didn’t think we were going to be in the place that we were in. Just with rebuilding and having so many new people,” said Collier.
“I think it definitely gave me a chance to prove myself and play a lot early and kind of establish myself in the league.”
Riding a wave of optimism this year, the four-times champion Lynx won five of their final six regular season games, but saw their year cut short in the post-season with an 84-74 Round 1 loss to the Seattle Storm.
But Collier said her team’s late season performance was cause for optimism.
“Especially toward the end we really started figuring it out. We had a lot of highs and lows through the year but we ended on a five out of six winning streak,” said Collier. “Going into that last game we were really on a roll.”
Next up, Collier said she will travel to Miami to train for the AmeriCup, held later this month in Puerto Rico.
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Alex Richardson)