MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Lynx wrapped up Monday’s practice at Mayo Clinic Square, rookie Jessica Shepard was in the middle of the team huddle, leaning on a pair of crutches.
If that was any indication, Shepard is still very much a part of the team. She’s just going to have to get used to a different role after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center.
“You hate to see something like that that happen,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “There’s nothing we can say to make it better. We just have to provide her with all the support we can.”
A second-round pick out of Notre Dame in this year’s draft, Shepard showed promise early in her rookie season. She had emerged as a key contributor as a power forward off the bench, using her shooting ability to stretch the floor and her passing ability to keep opposing teams honest. She was averaging 4.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game.
Shepard has already dealt with this type of injury. She tore the ACL in her left knee late in her high school career and still carved out an illustrious college career.
“It doesn’t mean it’s going to go exactly the same,” Reeve said. “It just helps that at least she knows what she’s in for and how hard she has to work.”
In her absence, fellow rookie Napheesa Collier has been thrust into additional playing time at power forward. A first-round pick out of UConn, Collier had spent most of her time playing small forward for the Lynx.
“She thought it was just like an occasional sub (at power forward) at first,” Reeve said. “It was like, ‘No. You’re like the third post player now. You’ve got to get in there.’ There’s a lot to learn, and she’s going to learn fast. I mean, she came from UConn, right?”
Collier played power forward in college under legendary coach Geno Auriemma. That gives her some baseline knowledge of the position, even though the attention to detail is increased at the next level.
“It’s not a lot different,” Collier said. “Just some of the things we look for are a little different. You just have to be cognizant of that. I’m just trying to pick up on that as quickly as possible. I played a little bit of it in training camp, so I just need to get re-acclimated to it.”
And if Collier has questions, she knows she can lean on Shepard for answers.
“She can help a lot with that,” Collier said. “Even before she got hurt, I would ask her for help. If I need anything moving forward, I know I can go to her.”
As for Shepard, the plan is for her to have surgery in about 10 days, once the swelling goes down. Then it will be straight to rehab.
“We know she’s going to work hard,” Reeve said. “We are also going to use it as a time to improve her shot, so the next time everyone sees her she should be well-oiled machine.”