Posted at 5:52 PM on June 1, 2009
by David Zingler
It's 7:30 pm on May 27 and the Lynx are in the midst of an intense scrimmage at their Arena Club practice facility. Kelly Miller, Renee Montgomery, Seimone Augustus, Charde Houston and Nicky Anosike are on the floor for the Lynx. Their opponents, wearing red mesh tank tops are local college and recreational ballers. They also happen to be men.
"A couple of years ago we tried to get as many former college basketball players as we could - athletic guys - to try to come in here and push us," Lynx head coach Don Zierden explained. "It serves two purposes; one is they're very good ballplayers and two, it gives us during training camp, extra rest so we don't have to go against each other all the time."
"The guys we have are great," Zierden continued. "They don't cheap shot our women, but they knock them around - they don't cut them any slack. What's really been good for our players is that they play aggressive and they don't let any of that bother them. Right from day one it's full go."
The men welcome the chance to match up with some of the top women players in the world. "I follow the women's college game," Armstrong graduate Tommy Franklin commented. "You walk into the gym and you point out the college they went to, so it's pretty fun."
Albert Green however, believes some men come unprepared for the intensity of the play. "At first, I think all the guys may come in with the mindset that we are going to run circles around them Globetrotter style," the former Minneapolis North standout said. "It's not always like that especially after the ladies get used to you a little bit they become more aggressive, more physical because they realize it's just basketball and everybody is trying to put the ball in the hoop."
While the men's quality of play is consistent, their knowledge of the WNBA and the Lynx varies widely - from Green: "I do know a few of the players, but I don't know all of them. I am learning everyday" to Franklin: "I plan on attending virtually every home game, I am a fan."
Often Zierden will take the role of coaching the men, handing off the responsibility of the Lynx players to assistant coaches. "We like to mix things up; the guys are really good at running what we want," Zierden explained. "Sometimes we want them to run a certain thing - right now we are trying to focus in on our first weekend with Chicago and Indiana - so I was trying to get (the guys) to run some Chicago and Indiana sets. In case of illness, in case I get thrown out, (assistant coach) Jen Gillom is running all of the time outs (with the Lynx players), so that is good."
Star guard Seimone Augustus admits the scrimmages can sometimes be humbling. "We've been practicing against them since the start of training camp. The first day was probably the worst day," the 3-time All Star recalled. "They really gave us the business, I guess. They couldn't miss; they started like 80% behind the three point line. But, as time has gone on, we've progressed and the girls have started to understand how to play against the guys and we are starting to give them a little bit of trouble."
In the end, the purpose of the scrimmages is to prepare the Lynx for the regular season. In that spirit, Zierden manipulates the score to put his team in desired scenarios. For instance, he wiped out an Augustus free throw by calling the guard "over the line" on the attempt when she clearly had stayed behind the stripe. Augustus, understanding the situation, did not protest.
Augustus's "violation" set up a play where the men attempted a buzzer beating, game winning 3-point shot. The men executed Zierden's play perfectly, inbounding the ball, making a pass, setting a screen and attempting a shot that looked good, but rimmed out.
While training camp ends on Friday and the scrimmages come to a halt, Augustus says the men don't disappear, "After a while you get to know them, form friendships, form relationships that you continue to have during the season."