Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had a conversation with rookie forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan in Minneapolis, prior to the team leaving for Bradenton, Fla. The message: The No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft was not going to play much for the Lynx early this season.
“Where she was on the depth chart just meant that she wasn’t necessarily going to get as many opportunities early,” Reeve said.
And the coach and general manager wasn’t lying. Herbert Harrigan didn’t see the floor in Minnesota’s season-opening win over Connecticut. That might have upset what Reeve called “all the amazing Kiki fans” who wanted to see the South Carolina product in action, but Herbert Harrigan understood the decision.
“I understand it’s a process, so if I don’t play, I’ll be my teammates’ biggest cheerleader,” she said. “I was just focused on trying to soak everything in, learn all the plays and just soak everything in from all the players and my coaches. Staying ready and being ready for when my number was called.”
Reeve said Herbert Harrigan handled her nonexistent workload “great,” and noted the rookie had a strong shootaround two days later prior to the team’s game against Seattle. Still, significant minutes likely weren’t on the horizon.
But there was another message Reeve delivered to Herbert Harrigan back in Minneapolis: “Every player in this league as a reserve player is an illness or an injury away from their time, from their number being called.”
“So we had that conversation,” Reeve said, “and I just asked her to be ready.”
And when Karima Christmas-Kelly went down with a ruptured Achilles in Minnesota’s loss to Seattle on Tuesday, it was Herbert Harrigan’s time. The rookie played 11 unimpressive minutes in what was a bad night for the Lynx all around. Then, Thursday, the 6-foot-2, 21-year-old shined.
In 17 minutes, Herbert Harrigan scored eight points, including two triples, to go with three rebounds, four deflections, an assist, a steal and a block in Minnesota’s win over Chicago.
“She’s long … (and) I think she’s hard to play against,” Reeve said. “She takes great pride in that (defensive) end. That’s what South Carolina did, so she came from that. But then she also took open shots, so obviously she’s getting a little more comfortable.”
Napheesa Collier remembers the start of her rookie season a year ago. She, too, was told she wouldn’t see much action because of where she was on the depth chart. But injuries created opportunity, and Collier seized it. By the end of the 2019 season, Collier led the WNBA in minutes en route to being named the league’s rookie of the year.
Nobody is saying Herbert Harrigan will follow that exact trajectory, but there were encouraging signs in Thursday’s game.
“Circumstances happen, things happen, and Kiki was obviously given the opportunity to play more minutes (Thursday), and she definitely took advantage of that,” Collier said. “So I’m really excited to see her getting more time.”
Rachel Banham said Herbert Harrigan has been learning every day and improving, and noted the rookie “stood up” when called upon Thursday. Herbert Harrigan was on the floor at the end of the game when the Lynx needed, and got, a stop to seal the victory.
From not playing at all to playing in winning time, all in a span of four days. How quickly things can change.
“That’s all a part of the process, just being ready,” Herbert Harrigan said. “You never know when your number will be called.”