Challenge #1: Playing different roles
For every player like Bentley who is asked to play the same role on both of her teams, there are others whose roles differ dramatically. Mestdagh and Fagbenle are likely the two starkest examples. Mestdagh was the EuroBasket iron woman, averaging 34.0 minutes per game to lead the field, but she has played only 66 minutes in 13 WNBA games. At EuroBasket, she reflected, “I definitely spent a lot of energy. I think I did good. I think what I did was needed for my team to win. I think this year, they needed some help with the rebounds. I helped to do that. And then scoring-wise, and yeah, a little bit of everything.” Despite standing only 5-10, her 6.7 rebounds per game ranked 13th in the tournament; she had two double-doubles with points and rebounds and nearly had a triple-double against France. In WNBA play, it’s her teammate Emma Meesseman who’s more likely to post those kinds of numbers.
Similarly, Fagbenle is a reserve for Minnesota, but was Great Britain’s go-to player and the tournament’s top scorer. She explained, “I’m looked at to score most of the time at Great Britain. [In the WNBA], I’m more of a role player. You know, shoot my shots when I’m open, rebound the ball, you know, just play solid basketball … it’s definitely something to transition.” Fagbenle admitted that the transition was “harder than [she] thought,” but attending training camp with the Lynx made it easier. That gave her time to meet new teammates and learn some of the new plays, even though she did not play in a WNBA game until after EuroBasket. Asked about the challenge of integrating Fagbenle into the Lynx lineup midseason, Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said, “It was probably more difficult for her than it was for us. We just were kind of waiting for her to figure it out. I would say at this point she’s pretty comfortable, knows what we need from her, and knows how important she is.”
Despite the challenges of balancing two teams, Fagbenle saw positives, too. “I had a great run in EuroBasket … that just gave me the confidence I needed to know that I’m a scorer.” In the WNBA, she said, “I just need to keep that confidence high and know that I can create.” Through 15 games with the Lynx, she’s averaging a career-high 5.3 points per game on 50% shooting.