With the Twins at the All Star break and the Vikings weeks away from training camp, it’s a good time to check in with the Lynx. If you’ve lost touch with them since their last championship run in 2017, A LOT has changed.
Lindsay Whalen has retired, Maya Moore is taking the season off, Seimone Augustus is injured and Rebekkah Brunson is unsigned recovering from a concussion. Despite all of that, the Lynx find themselves in the thick of the playoff race. Coach Cheryl Reeve has done a masterful job weaving together a group of youngsters and veterans on the fly.
24-year-old Alaina Coates was acquired by the team just four days before the season opener and has become a valuable rotation piece. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft is backing up Sylvia Fowles and picking the former league MVP’s brain along the way.
I caught up with the 6-4 center earlier this week.
DZ: Well, you’ve been with the Lynx now a couple of months. What are your impressions so far?
COATES: We started out really good, kind of had a little rough patch with the losing streak but we’ve been able to get it together. We really been, especially with all the injuries, we’ve really been finding a good mix with the people who been having to come in, stepping in, enhancing their roles, whether it’s on or off the court. But really, putting the pieces of the puzzle to use, that Cheryl brought us all in here to do. I feel like we’ve really been doing good job in terms of executing what needs to be done.
DZ: Well, you and Sylvia Fowles have a lot in common. You were both drafted second overall by Chicago and then traded here. What’s it been like having her as teammate?
COATES: It’s been wonderful. Syl is like the big sister that I’ve always wanted. She’s goofy. She’s really helpful. If I ever have a brain fart, she’s right there to help me. She’s a really good teammate. I never thought I’d get the chance to be like, “I get to play with Sylvia Fowles.” I admired her coming up, so it’s kind of like a dream come true.
DZ: Cool, so she’s been like a mentor for you, would you say?
COATES: Yeah, she’s been like a really good mentor.
DZ: You got traded literally (four) days before the season started. Were you surprised by that?
COATES: I was surprised. I kind of had a couple thoughts go through my head just kind of with how training camp was going in Chicago. But, after I saw the announcement about (the Sky’s trade for center Jantel) Lavender, I was like, “Oh okay.” I kind of just figured I would be going somewhere else. But, talked with my managers, talked with Coach Reeve. She said she was happy to bring me into the fold. Everybody was so welcoming here. The staff, players, fans, everybody. I’d never been in Minnesota for longer than two days to play a game, so it was a really welcoming and it felt like home immediately.
DZ: You missed your whole rookie year with an ankle injury. How long did it take you to get caught back up after that?
COATES: It definitely… I played overseas for like a month and a half. But, I definitely would have to say, even though I didn’t play as much in Chicago, it took me that season to kind of get back to where I was. I was really at my best in South Carolina and then I had to take this long break with the injury and surgery. (I) had to take time off, resting it, and then rehabbing and everything like that, getting my strength back.
And then, I had to get back into the basketball aspect. The league it’s a… it’s a whole ‘nother league of its own. So, it’s not like, I had a significant amount of practice to be ready for what I was thrown into. But now this year, Cheryl is giving me the chances, to go out there and show what I’m made of….I go in and I make use of my minutes and she likes what she sees out of me. I kind of consider this my rookie year since it did take over year to fully get back.
DZ: You mentioned South Carolina. You’re from there and you won the national championship there… How much more personal did it feel being from that state?
COATES: It was real personal, being born and raised there. I was a daddy’s girl. I’m a daddy’s girl so I didn’t want to be too far away from him. Coach Staley is great coach. All the coaches and staff, and the staff period that came through USC while I was there, everybody was great. I definitely felt like I built, as a player… and I was very proud. It’s one thing to be like, “Yeah, we won the national championship”, and you go to a different state and play for that team, but it was my home state so it definitely meant a lot to me.
DZ: That’s awesome. Couple kind of different kind of questions here. I read that your uncle is Ben Coates, the former (NFL) tight end. Do you keep in touch with him a lot? If so, how is he doing?
COATES: We get to talk every now and again. Just, he’s busy with his life, I’m busy with mine. This is, this is a whirlwind in its own. We don’t keep in touch that often but I know he… Well, when I was in Chicago, I believe he bought season passes. But now, I think he’ll be there. I’m pretty sure he’ll be there when we play them. I don’t know. But he’s kind of had to rework that.
DZ: And this one last thing. How did you come up with number 81?
COATES: That was my father’s number. He passed, so when he played football, that was his number. I would have had that number in Chicago but I didn’t know if we could go that high in numbers as well so I kind of held off on it because 41 was all through college but I basically wear that for him.
See more of David Zingler’s 2019 athlete interviews:
June 25: Taylor Rogers
June 19: Ryan Eades
June 16: Jason Castro
May 18: Seimone Augustus
April 24: Ryne Harper
April 21: CJ Cron
February 2: Caleb Truax
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