Professional Basketball

Fowles Takes AP MVP Honors

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After the Minnesota Lynx won their first game of the season by downing the Chicago Sky 70-61 back on May 14, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve wasn’t satisfied with her team’s performance. During halftime of the contest, Reeve was frustrated at her team’s lack of offensive rebounding while allowing the Sky to grab 12 O-boards in the first half alone. She took the time to show film of each of the plays when Chicago grabbed an offensive rebound and most of the Lynx players weren’t even in the picture. It was a quick wakeup call.

“We just got outrebounded. That can’t happen. Not when, in the last game you played in 2016, you lost the game on an offensive rebound [Game 5 of the WNBA Finals]. You’re going to come out there and not defensive rebound? That can’t happen. But that just happened to us. So, it ain’t going to happen again,” said Reeve at the time while noting that her center, Sylvia Fowles, was missing from several key plays.

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles has won five player-of-the-week awards and three player-of-the-month awards this season and was named MVP for the 2017 season by the Associated Press. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Despite scoring 26 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in the home opener, clearly Reeve raised the expectations on Fowles for the season. Though Reeve admitted that part of the problem was Fowles’s lack of conditioning at that time, the head coach’s remarks after a nine point season opening win left many media members scratching their heads.

This past Tuesday, Fowles was named the league’s most valuable player by the Associated Press while garnering 14 out of the 15 available votes. She took home player-of-the-week honors five times this season and player of the month for three out of the four months.

More importantly, with improved play from Fowles in the post, the Lynx became even more dominant than they had been in the past and finished the season with a 27-7 record and the top overall seed in the postseason. Clearly Reeve knew that not only could she raise the bar, but that her starting center would respond well.

When asked about the player-of-the-week awards, Fowles said, “I got back to all of my work and my teammates put me in a great position to score. It’s also about what our opponent gives us. If they want to give me one-on-one, fine. If they want to double, I’ll throw it back out. It’s pretty much pick your poison. You want me to go inside or do you want my guards to shoot?”

“I just go out there and do what I do best – just being dominant and then focus to continue to do what I can do,” Fowles added.

When asked about how she became such a dominant player this season, Fowles gave the credit to her head coach.

“We made a commitment to each other that she wanted me to be in the mix of scoring. I took that to heart. I went overseas and she gave me some points that she wanted me to work on like being patient and staying mentally strong,” Fowles explained.

“People are going to come at me all kinds of ways and I just had to block everything out and focus on me. A lot of my credit goes to her and our new position coaches. They’ve been doing a great job with me. So all of my credit goes to my coaches and my teammates for just encouraging me to continue to do what I do,” said Fowles.

Opponents know from experience how good, and tough, a player that Fowles is.

“Sylvia’s a great player. Hands down I think she’s the best tall player in the league,” said Chicago Sky forward Jessica Breland. “She’s really tough and moves really well, plus she has really smart guards around her getting her the ball where she needs to get the ball.”

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, who was a teammate of Fowles at Chicago, said, “Yeah. Syl’s a great player. She’s got size, she’s got athleticism. She can alter so many shots and she’s a monster on the boards. You’re never going to shut Syl down. You just have to hope to contain her in some way and to make her think a little bit. We try to do that by setting double-teams but Syl’s great and she’s improving year in and year out. She’s making the right reads. She’s not forcing things. So it’s been fun to watch her develop.”

Michael Cooper, the Atlanta Dream’s head coach who was just relieved of his duties earlier this week, had this to say about Fowles.

“You know what? She is such a powerful player. I liken her to a player like Shaquille O’Neal. She’s just relentless and she’s not going to quit. She just keeps going and going. As the games get on the line, it seems like she gets stronger and stronger down the stretch. Give her a lot of credit,” said Cooper.

Fowles finished the regular season having scored 18.9 points per game, 10.4 rebounds per game, 1.9 blocks per game and 1.2 steals per game. She has a player efficiency rating of 30.92, which is the 11th best all-time.

When asked about Fowles’s chances at the league MVP award, Reeve said, “Syl was good for months before she hit some bumps in the road. Still, even with those bumps, she’s pretty darned good. Her PER [player efficiency rating] is [one of the best] all-time. This season that she’s having is one of the best in our league’s history. I personally don’t think it’s even close.”

The Associated Press also handed out their honors to Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller for coach of the year; Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones for most improved player; Los Angeles Sparks guard Alana Beard for defensive player of the year; Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray for rookie of the year; New York Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers took home sixth woman of the year honors while Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince was named comeback player of the year.

The official WNBA league awards will be announced sporadically throughout the playoffs.

NOTES:

The First Round of the WNBA playoffs concluded Wednesday with the Washington Mystics downing the Dallas Wings 86-76, and the Phoenix Mercury knocking off the Seattle Storm 79-

69. The fifth-seeded Mercury travels to the fourth seeded Connecticut Sun for a 2 p.m. CT matchup on Sunday Sept. 10. The sixth-seeded Mystics visit the third seed New York Liberty at 4 p.m. CT, also on Sunday. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN2.

The WNBA registered its highest total attendance (1,574,078) and highest average attendance (7,716) since 2011. The year was highlighted by double-digit attendance growth by the Los Angeles Sparks (+17.8%), Connecticut Sun (+15.3%) and Minnesota Lynx (+12.3%). The Sparks had their highest average attendance (11,350) since 2002, while the Lynx had their highest average attendance (10,407) since their inaugural season in 1999.

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