Napheesa Collier named WNBA Rookie of the Year

The Minnesota Lynx forward headlines the 2019 All-Rookie Team

An emotional race filled with trash talk and stellar play officially came to an end on Monday, when the WNBA named Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier as its 2019 Rookie of the Year.

The unofficial race between Collier and Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale was neck-and-neck throughout the entire season. Despite that, the final numbers in the WNBA’s votes were not very close. Collier received 29 of the 43 total votes from a national group of sportswriters and broadcasters, while Ogunbowale received the other 14. The two joined Indiana’s Teaira McCowan, Las Vegas’s Jackie Young, and Phoenix’s Brianna Turner in the 2019 All-Rookie Team.

During a press conference Monday morning, Collier expressed her gratitude for the Rookie of the Year honor – and to those who helped make her debut season so successful.

“There’s a long list of thank yous that I need to make,” she said. “Because I definitely didn’t win this award on my own.

“First of all, I’d like to thank the Lynx organization for drafting me.”

It all began in April, when the Lynx chose Collier with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. Many did not expect the former UConn standout to fall to the four-time WNBA champions. But when Lynx head coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve saw it was a possibility, she decided to take a chance – and it paid off.

“I would say we were cautiously optimistic,” she said per a story on the Lynx website. “We were sure that we had a good player for years to come, we just weren’t aware of maybe how quickly she would grab ahold of the WNBA and be successful.”

Collier became just the third No. 6 pick to receive Rookie of the Year honors, joining Tameka Johnson (Washington Mystics, 2005) and former Lynx star Betty Lennox (2000). She is also the fourth Lynx player named Rookie of the Year and the second on the team’s current roster.

While Collier had a stellar season according to statistics – leading the entire league in minutes played, for starters – it’s fair to say she did so well in big part thanks to her teammates, many of whom were in attendance Monday.

Collier joined teammates Odyssey Sims and Sylvia Fowles (one of the captains along with Danielle Robinson and Seimone Augustus) in playing and starting all 34 regular-season games for the Lynx in 2019. But, as Reeve explained last month on Minneapolis TV station WCCO, that was not their plan – and yet, Collier shined anyway.

“We went through free agency, we attracted a quality small forward in Karima Christmas-Kelly, but unfortunately she hasn’t been able to recover from her injuries,” Reeve said. “So Napheesa Collier landed the starting job on day one. And she has just blossomed from game one to where we are now – not only the Rookie of the Year, but I think one of the best players in the league as well.”

No Lynx fan will soon forget Collier’s WNBA debut, when she scored a game-high 27 points against the Chicago Sky on May 25. That mark set a new franchise record for rookie players and is second in league history. But, as she alluded throughout Monday’s event, her teammates played a big role in helping her shine day in and day out.

“You guys really took me under my wing this year and made me feel comfortable from day one,” she said to her captains in attendance Monday. “So I really appreciate all you guys.”

Her teammates returned that appreciation in person and online.

“I feel like a coach or something,” Augustus said per the Lynx website. “It feels good to see someone who I felt like I mentored a lot this year, just staying in her ear, giving her a confidence boost that she needed or just directing her in the way that she needed to go, to continue to be successful.

“You feel proud—a super proud moment to see your teammate do great things.”

Collier also thanked the Lynx staff and her parents, who joined her in Minneapolis for the occasion.

The Lynx finished the regular season with an 18-16 record and a first-round playoff exit, just as they did in 2018. This came despite many of the franchise’s stars either recovering from injury, taking time off, or retiring after last season.

It’s fair to say Collier and the Lynx found a silver lining in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

“She just kind of played her game and it fit perfectly into what we needed,” Augustus added. “It was great to see that growth, to see how she excelled and figured out how to use her body, her length, and as the season went on that was great to see.”

“She was not only one of the most efficient scorers in the league, her defensive performance ranked near the top of the entire league and was one of the best seasons ever for a rookie,” Reeve said. “Napheesa’s rookie campaign was a model of consistency rarely demonstrated by first-year players and simply put, we were a better team with her on the court.”

Collier ended her statement with a shoutout to her fellow rookies from the Class of 2019 – and the race to the award she now has.

“This draft class is extremely talented. It was one heck of a race, a little bit too close for my liking to be honest,” she said, getting laughs from the crowd. “But, I’m really excited for the future of this league. I think this is just the beginning for us, and I can’t wait to get started here.”

While the talents of some of the best players in the league are missed, a new era has begun for the Minnesota Lynx. It’s hard to tell what’s in store, but with Napheesa Collier on the court, the future looks bright.

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