FAGBENLE BUOYED BY LYNX EFFECT

The champagne flowed, doubtless well into the wee small hours, and Temi Fagbenle drank up every drop of the triumphant euphoria.

The first Briton to claim a WNBA Championship after the Minnesota Lynx’s Game 5 clincher over the Los Angeles Sparks earlier this week has relished a rookie season that turned into a glorious title ride.

It mattered little that the 25-year-old did not log a single minute in the Finals and found playing time scarce all summer long.

A team united, one through twelve, each sharing the moment. “That feeling of joy and gratitude, all those emotions when the final bell rang,” she recounts. “It was great to be a part of.

“Obviously, I didn’t play. But just to have been there on the team, and seeing what it takes to get to that level, has helped me understand what I need to do in the future.”

From north London, to high school in New Jersey via Harvard and a post-graduate season in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, there has been lessons and learning on each stop.

Not to mention the profitable education from her many stints on Great Britain, foremost the 2012 Olympic Games on home soil.

The common thread hitherto in each? A starting role, due prominence for her athleticism and ability in the post and the paint, her talents centrally featured.

It would never be thus, she knew, coming onto a veteran Lynx squad with an established core led by Maya Moore, Lindsey Whalen and the eventual Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles.

But she did not quite foresee that she would average less than two minutes per night, those with years of proven ability proving immovable.

“It was a big challenge, bigger than I thought it would ever be,” Fagbenle reveals. “Because I’ve never been in this position of not playing before. Sometimes not getting off the bench – literally a bench-rider. It is humbling.

“I’m glad to have faced the challenge of playing a different role on the team. I embraced it. It put a different perspective on the whole game. You can play a big role even if you’re not playing. I tried to bring as much energy as I could every day.

“Because it really does make a difference. When everyone is on the same page, it really helps to foster a real sense of community and team-work and a championship environment.

“So I put it on myself to bring as much energy as I could and a positive attitude, to play as hard as I could, to sprint everywhere and bust my arse when I got on the court – to show that I should be out there and that I am willing to work as hard as any of them and to show what I’ve got as well.”

The Lynx celebrate their fourth title in seven years (Twitter)

Winning, undoubtedly, soothed any pain. However spend any length of time in Fagbenle’s company and you quickly learn there is so much more in her ecosystem than simply makes and misses.

Bright as a button, wise beyond her years, the geopolitical sphere and public relations (the subject of her Master’s degree) are as much of interest as advancing her enthusiasm for acting, especially with a brother – O.T. – who has already carved out a notable career on screen and on stage.

“Especially being in that fantastic environment that is USC,” she affirms, “I pursued some modelling, I did some acting classes at USC. I really pursued some other interests.

“As athletes, we often are pigeon holed into boxes but we are humans, we have other interests and desires. Modelling, acting, being creative, I was able to do some of that in LA. But I’m not stopping there. I am interested in doing more acting so we’ll see what happens.”

Why impose limits, especially when Fagbenle has already knocked down a good few barriers en route? The second Brit, after Andrea Congreaves, to make the WNBA. The first to elevate there out of Harvard.

Both traits, she admits, converted her into somewhat of a novelty in The W, even with the league’s desire to attract the best of the best, no matter their state of origin.

“I’m used to people feeling me out to see where I really stand,” she confesses. “Coming here, I had Harvard behind me, I am British – my accent is still fairly strong – so I am different here.

“But they really accepted me and took me as I am. I’m not here to take anyone’s spot, just to be the best I can be. They really embraced me with open arms and that’s a testament to the type of people they are.”

Stratospheric superstars abound in Minnesota, yet they remain down to earth, she adds. Egos kept to a minimal. A creed preached by head coach Cheryl Reeve that success is a team game.

“It’s an incredible environment to be in and that starts from our coach: she’s the head of the snake and she fosters a fantastic community here.

“She tells us the importance of being together, of high-fiving or touch, of respect. All those things are usually taken for granted but they are held to high regard.”

Fagbenle is set to play for GB against Israel in Manchester on November 11 (Mansoor Ahmed)

But now that the championship parade is complete and the last champagne has been consumed, it is time to pack bags and depart.

Poland is Fagbenle’s next destination. Euroleague Women outfit CC Polkowice her next club, with her availability assured for GB’s opening EuroBasket qualifiers – against Israel and Greece next month – a welcome fillip for head coach Chema Buceta.

The bench time in Minnesota has left her with ample energy unspent. And in a mood to showcase talents topped up the reservoir of tips unashamedly pinched from her Lynx running mates.

“I am raring to go,” she laughs. “As I should be. My legs are ready. I’m ready to show what I’ve got.

“I worked hard pre-training camp. I thought I’d be playing. I didn’t and that’s ok. But now is the chance to show what I can do.”

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