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Napheesa Collier on Wubble-Life, New Podcast, and the WNBA’s Drive For Change

VIA @MINNESOTALYNX ON TWITTER

Napheesa Collier is a forward for the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. Drafted 6th out of UConn by the Lynx in 2019, Collier she was subsequently named Rookie of the Year and was voted to the 2019 WNBA All-Rookie Team. Below, Collier details life in the Wubble, as well as her new podcast ‘Tea with A & Phee,’ which she hosts with A’ja Wilson. 

There was some initial skepticism around the WNBA bubble, but the consensus now seems to be that the bubble is better than expected. How concerned are you about bubble fatigue as the season goes on?

As far as being in the bubble goes, obviously it’s not ideal. It’s not what you want to be doing, but the WNBA really has made the best out of the situation. And the IMG campus is really big, so it helps that we’re not confined to one hotel or something like that. Our team even got to go to the beach last weekend. It was a private beach where it was just us there and there were protocols in place. Those kinds of things keep you sane. As far as game fatigue, I think it’s going to get progressively harder. This is our second stretch now where we have six games in a row. I think we’re definitely going to start feeling it more because it’s really hard to play every other day. Some teams have 10 games in a row, so it’s a lot.

You aren’t traveling, but you’re playing so many games back to back. How has recovery been?

Our first stretch was only four games long and we’re only just into our six game stretch now. But on days like today, we have full recovery where the whole team does something with our trainer for 20 minutes in the pool. We’re all just trying to take care of our bodies. We have NormaTec which is great. But we’re not having a bunch of practices, so you really have to lock in mentally. You have to force yourself to stay locked in because we don’t have as much time as in a normal season to scout other teams and then practice what we learn. Obviously, you always want to be locked in mentally, but you really have to hone down and focus now because there’s such a short window between games.

Thank goodness for NormaTec, right?

Seriously. It’s in my room right now.

How have the protocols been and do you think players will continue to follow all of them?

It’s been going really well with protocols, so far. I think everyone will continue to follow them because they’re working for us right now and we can see that if we keep doing this, then we’ll get to finish our season. I think the WNBA has been doing a really good job with it. We have testing every day and we have to wear our masks. They are doing a really great job with sanitizing everything and keeping things separate and just doing everything they can to make sure that everyone stays safe and healthy. So, we’re really excited and optimistic about finishing the season.

Social justice has been at the forefront of this season. How much of a factor was social justice in your decision to play?

For me, it was very important. Being in the WNBA, we all have a platform. But I think that playing gives you a bigger platform and keeps people engaged with the issues. People get fatigued hearing the same thing over and over, even though it is just as important as it was before. Playing gives us an advantage in that people are engaged in the games and we can push what we’re fighting for at the same time. I think it was really important for us, as a league, to be united this season, which is why we’ve had so much programming for victims of police brutality. We have it on our court and we have a new shirt every game.

Teams looked a little rusty in their first couple of games, but now it seems like every night someone new is going off. Do you feel like everyone has found their rhythm or do you expect there to be more ups and downs?

I think it was rough at first because one, we haven’t played in a long time. Our season was postponed and people had to come back from overseas early and not everyone had access to gym time. Even with gym time, it’s different working out compared to actually being in a game situation. So yeah, it was a little rough at first and, honestly, I think there will be ups and downs with fatigue. Like I said, it’s really hard to play so many games in a row. And if people are coming off of injuries or if they have injuries lingering or if they’re older, it will be harder. I think teams will continue to have a lot of ups and downs.

The Lynx are near the top of the league’s standings. What needs to happen to stay in championship contention?

Obviously, we need to continue to win games. We want to feel confident about the way we win them — we don’t just want to get by. For us, specifically, we are trying to cut down on turnovers. And we really struggled in the first couple of games with transition defense, but during the last couple games, we started to hone in on it. I think our transition defense is what makes the difference in our games because obviously everyone wants to be in transition. And when we can stop that transition, our half court defense is really good. So I think we need to continue our transition defense and cut down on those turnovers.

What are your expectations for the remainder of the season?

I’m excited. I really like the group of women on my team. I think our chemistry is great. So I’m excited to keep playing with them and just building. We have a lot of new players, but we’ve been able to form a group pretty quickly because we all want to play hard for each other. So far, when we have set a goal for ourselves, we have executed it in games. Like I said, our transition defense and our turnovers are progressively getting better each game. And it’s encouraging to see how coachable we are as a team. I’m excited to see what we can do this season.

We’re definitely excited to watch as fans. Last year your goal was to win Rookie of the Year and you did it. What are your personal goals for this season? 

My next big goal is to win MVP. I want to make first team All-WNBA, too. First and foremost, though, I want our team to win. So, that’s the big thing right now and that’s all I’m focusing on at the moment.

Moving into your podcast, which we are all huge fans of — we love that “locker room talk” vibe. How did the podcast, ‘Tea with A & Phee,’ come to be?

It really just stemmed from us being two young players in the league and wanting to share our perspectives on what we go through in the bubble. We feel like we’re up and coming players, and I think our perspective is a little different from people who have been in the league longer. We thought it would be interesting to talk about that and our experiences so far. Obviously, having guests on the podcast is super fun as well. We were definitely fan-girling a little before the last episode with Kevin Durant.

What are your plans with this podcast? Are you hoping to only do it while you’re in the Wubble or are you hoping to grow it? 

We want to grow it for sure. We did not think it would take off as quickly as it has, so we’re super excited to continue growing. Right now, we’re young in the league and I think it would be cool to see how our perspectives grow and our experiences change as we continue in the league. We don’t have any set plans right now, but I guess we’ll see what the future holds.

The relationship between the WNBA and the NBA is really special. Can you speak on that? There is so much love that goes in both directions. I think that’s really unique to basketball in the US.

I think it is, too. And I think it’s just love for the game. A lot of the trolling focuses on the women’s side, but people who actually play and who are serious about the sport understand how fun it is to watch both men’s and women’s. It’s two totally different styles of play. Ours is more technical and fastball, and more mentally sound than the men’s game. But the men are super fun to watch because they’re so athletic and it’s incredible the things they can do. As athletes, we understand both sides of that, the men’s and the women’s game. It goes both ways. We all love watching and supporting each other.

We’re on the outside looking in. What are we missing? What is the person who’s following the league from outside of the Wubble not seeing? 

Well, I mean, I go to practice and then back to my room! But, it’s cool to be with everyone else because you get to see them every day. You don’t get to do that in a normal season, so our relationships have definitely grown. You meet and interact more with people from other teams, too. So, it’s really cool how competitive we can be on the court and then how supportive we are off the court. Everyone is so friendly and cool with each other — that has been a really great part of the Wubble.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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