Devereaux Peters has grown into her role for the Minnesota Lynx as a solid reserve. Photo by Abe Bookman/Stratman Photography.
Devereaux Peters has grown into her role for the Minnesota Lynx as a solid reserve. Photo by Abe Bookman/Stratman Photography.

Devereaux Peters has grown into a role that the Lynx need

July 10, 2015 - 8:50pm
Devereaux Peters blocks the Mercury's Mistie Bass in a game last month. Photo by Abe Bookman, Stratman Photography.

Devereaux Peters blocks the Mercury's Mistie Bass in a game last month. Photo by Abe Bookman, Stratman Photography.

In a June 27 meeting between the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx, most of the attention was devoted to Mercury center Brittney Griner, who was competing in her first game of the season following a suspension.

By the end of the game, Lynx players reminded spectators of their own capabilities, including fourth-year forward Devereaux Peters. A highlight-worthy block of Mistie Bass fired up the audience at the end of the third quarter. Intervening in time to stop an open layup from going in, the Peters rejection was the subject of conversation in the Lynx locker room.

"AHHHHH HA HA! That block! That block! Oh my gosh!" exclaimed Lynx forward Maya Moore. "The reason she got it is because I got beat."

Moore later added "Go-go gadget arms!"

Inspector Gadget references have followed Peters throughout her career. She lacks the mechanical components to extend her body parts beyond normal parameters, and you won't find a built-in copter inside her head, but a 77-inch wingspan answers the mystery behind the nickname for the 25-year-old Chicago native.

"Being able to get blocks and tip balls that a lot of people wouldn't be able to do," Peters said.

Coach Cheryl Reeve agreed.

"She just has a unique ability to have her hands in places that are really hard to play against," Reeve said.

Peters is considered small for a forward, but her length compensates nicely. She also took some time off last winter to heal lingering ailments to her knee. She now has no health inhibitors to overcome when she takes the floor.

"My knee being good has a huge deal to do with everything because I feel more mobile, which makes me able to block shots up high instead of trying to reach," Peters said.

Sports is a constant source of passion for Peters, and her reach extended to several of them as a child. Her 6-foot-2 frame became the emphasis to concentrate on basketball, where she found plenty of success in high school. Peters was one of four players on her varsity roster at Fenwick High School to land a Division One scholarship.

Peters headed eastward to South Bend, Ind., where the campus of Notre Dame is located. In college, she won Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors twice. Although she came up short in back-to-back national championship games, losing to Texas A&M in 2011 and Baylor in 2012, Peters retains fond memories of her years with the Fighting Irish.

"I was a role player at Notre Dame. We had Skylar (Diggins), Natalie Novosel, Brittany Mallory, (and) Kayla McBride. We had a ton of scorers and I got in where I fit in," she said.

The role of patience would also fit itself in Peters' curriculum, as her playing career was impeded by two anterior cruciate ligament tears in the span of 10 months. Sitting and watching was excruciating, but the lessons learned in that period planted a proverbial seed of tranquility that would slowly grow over the years.

"Sometimes, you have to play through all types of obstacles. It's much tougher on you mentally than it is physically. I was a hot-head in college and I think that really helped me simmer down a little bit," Peters said.

When Peters was approaching draft eligibility in 2012, her adaptability was marketed heavily by Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.

"Muffet McGraw, in my conversation with her, described her as the most unselfish player she's ever coached. You never have to run any plays with her, and she's OK with that," Reeve said.

Lynx assisstant coach Jim Petersen said the organization liked Peters from the beginning.

"The reason we liked her so much was because of her ability to pass the basketball. She was a phenomenal passer from the elbows at Notre Dame," he said.

Minnesota had several options to choose from in the 2012 draft, holding the third overall pick thanks to a trade with Washington in the previous year. The Lynx were coming off their first championship and knew most of the components from that team would return, so whoever they got would need to understand that playing time wasn't necessarily plentiful.

"We drafted Devereaux that year because we really wanted to make sure our chemistry remained intact," Reeve said. "Sometimes, when you draft a player that high, they come in wanting to be that same player they were in college. Devereaux, we weren't concerned with because she was a supporting player for Notre Dame. Dev's ego has never been in the way."

The depth chart for Lynx post players has shifted throughout Peters' career, and her four career starts have come only when the people in front of her were injured. Currently, Reeve considers her the fourth post option on the roster. Peters isn't bothered by the amount of playing time and touches she receives, but meshing with her Lynx teammates was a bit cumbersome in the transition from college to pro.

"It was a little bit tougher than I expected it to be. I came in thinking I was going to have one role and it has changed every year," she said. "I'm here to come in and bring a lot of energy. I'm just coming to do whatever anybody needs."

Naturally, a player with limited minutes may feel compelled to make a resounding impression quickly, Peters included. Her rookie season was respectable for a reserve, averaging 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game with a 56 percent field goal mark. However, there were moments that displayed her lack of professional experience.

"The younger Dev would make home run plays defensively. You either got a great block or a foul," Reeve said.

Petersen noticed the differences, too.

"A lot of times, she tries to throw balls through a tight window. It's a source of frustration for Reeve. Fouling and turnovers were her thing that kept her from getting more minutes," Petersen said.

No one is immune to mistakes, but the coaching staff also noticed an unsettling pattern with Peters in stressful situations: she was unable to corral her emotions. If she committed an error, everyone would know. Her previous coaches were aware of this problem, but Reeve noticed a diminishing quality of play when Peters couldn't exorcise the torment of screwing up.

When Peters began her second season at Minnesota, Reeve hatched a plan to stop the episodes of frustration.

"Anytime you tell a player you're going to fine them, you have their full attention. It could be for a dollar," she said. "We've talked about examples of people who handle their mistakes. It's one thing to forget a mistake, it's another one to make a mistake and immediately make up for it by doing something to get the ball back."

There is no official tally of Peters' fines, but she didn't need to see a total to get the message.

"I definitely had to pay some money. I'm one of those people that curses every time I missed a shot. Jim would be out there snapping on me for saying something," she said.

When Petersen would work with Peters in practice, he witnessed a similar gesture of exasperation. The problem was most apparent in spot-shooting drills. If Peters missed two or more shots in a row, irritation would surface. Unable to cope with this anger, Petersen told Peters that she was to complete an entire shooting session without any kind of reaction to a miss.

"In basketball, you got to live in the future. It's always next play," Petersen said.

Taking notes from people who play through mistakes, including Moore, Peters has embraced a calmer attitude that no longer advertises a miscue to the entire crowd.

"Now I feel like when I'm on the court: straight face. Nothing really fazes me at this point," she said.

Thanks to Minnesota, Peters has a WNBA championship to her credit, but her career is also marked by a continuous comparison to her fellow draft members. In particular, some fans and analysts have contrasted Peters with Tulsa forward Glory Johnson, who was chosen right after Peters in the 2012 draft. Both are forwards with similar traits, and using traditional stats, critics suggest the Lynx missed out on a rising star with Johnson averaging close to a double-double in the last two seasons.

Johnson and Peters have a glaring difference when it comes to numbers, but reviewers leave out an important detail explaining the gap: Johnson went to a team that needed her services immediately during a rebuilding process, while Peters joined a deep squad that alleviated some pressure to perform. Those circumstances wouldn't have changed had the two switched places.

"We didn't draft Devereaux because we thought that someday she'd average 20 and 10 for us," Reeve said. "We've counted on her to be solid and do things the Lynx way, which is to not care who gets the credit."

"I don't complain about not getting the ball. If you look at the teams that I've been on, I've played the same role. I picked up the scraps. That's the role I have here and it's worked well for me," Peters said.

Amusingly, talk of Peters being a bust fell silent after Johnson announced she would miss the entire 2015 season to a surprise pregnancy. Although Peters can't boast the All-Star credentials that Johnson has, her value is appreciated in other ways.

"People will look at points and rebounds, we look at efficiency ratings," Reeve said. "We value possessions, deflections, things that aren't in the stat sheet."

Even if she doesn't evolve beyond a role player, Peters understands that the dazzling performances in front of thousands of fans is the result of work that spectators rarely see.
"At Notre Dame, we had girls on our team that didn't play but will compete in practice really hard and make the starters better. People try to make it seem like that's not important, but they really matter, especially when you want to be a great team," she said.

Four years of gathering experience and wisdom have helped Peters earn an increasing level of trust with the coaching staff. As she gets older, Reeve senses an athlete who understands the concept of always being ready. Readiness is a frequent cliché applied to reserves, but the dedication exhibited by Peters goes deeper than one-liners.

"Ideally, you'd like to come to the gym and know that you're going to be the first sub in. To predict is the easy way, the hard part is when you never know and still come in prepared, and that's what exactly she's done. Her professionalism is off the charts," Petersen said.

Peters showcased her preparation in a June 25 road meeting with Seattle, a game Petersen considered a "watershed" moment for the Lynx this season. Following a first-half pounding, a perplexed Cheryl Reeve changed up her entire strategy for the second half in hopes of better containment inside. Peters got the call to lead the interior defense, and in 19 minutes of action, she recorded five rebounds, five blocks and four steals. Without her intensity, the Lynx wouldn't have erased an 18-point deficit for a 76-73 win.
Peters followed up that effort with another four blocks in the aforementioned game against Phoenix, adding more evidence of her defensive maturity.

"She's really learned how to defend without fouling and really impacts plays and is doing a great job of being vertical. We've really come to depend on her for key assignments," Reeve said.

Prone to fouls in college and early in her Lynx career, Peters has cleaned up her defensive presence with a foul rate of 1.1 per game in 14.5 minutes per game this season. Compared to her rookie season, when she was averaging similar minutes, she has cut her personal fouls by more than half.

With fewer fouls to worry about, Peters has also improved on intangibles to add another benefit for Minnesota.

"She can guard posts, and she can guard guards. She can contain. She's a great communicator. She understands how to rotate defensively," Petersen said.

How far Peters can grow is dependent on several factors. There aren't any foreseeable changes coming to the Lynx interior in the short term, but there is also a degree of familiarity that would be hard to match elsewhere. Peters is in the final year of her rookie contract, which means a big decision looms ahead. Finding a consistent presence on offense would augment her value, and she has been a quick study when it comes to making refinements in her play.

"She's embracing the perimeter jump shot, she's not looking over the shoulder," Petersen said. "She's just got to believe it, and then when she believes it, she's going make Coach Reeve believe it and then the minutes are going to be there."

Peters can be infectious to Lynx teammates when she's in a cheerful spirit, especially with Moore, as the two are stationed next to each other in the locker room. When Peters hit the first three-pointer of her career in a runaway win over Seattle at Target Center, she teased Moore about taking her starting spot at small forward. Moore retorted that she wasn't going to give up her minutes, but there was no question they were signaling a camaraderie four years in the making.

Peters' reputation for enhancing people around her is not confined to basketball. Before her most recent overseas campaign, she jumped in the broadcasting field as an analyst for Big Ten Network coverage of Northwestern games. She also started a YouTube blog titled "Down and Dirty," sharing her thoughts on current events in the WNBA and other sports, which includes interviews with her basketball contemporaries.

Watching Peters navigate her career at Minnesota is a study on cohesiveness, diligence and sacrifice. Attaining star power has never been an objective of hers, she would rather shine as part of a constellation.

"This team only works when everybody does what they're supposed to do. I finally found a nice fit with them," she said.