Some are calling the 2016 WNBA Draft “the Breanna Stewart draft.” But there are other draft eligible players out there as well, and the MSR will briefly discuss several of them in our “Countdown to the WNBA Draft 2016.”
Today – Minnesota guard Rachel Banham
Too many locals and others love to compare U-M redshirt senior Rachel Banham and current Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen. Both Minnesota natives played their entire college career at the state’s only Division I school. “I wanted to stay here to be close to my family, and they have been at every single game,” said Banham, the Lakeville native. Whalen who’s from Hutchinson, also chose to stay close to home and family.
But that, as the Gophers’ longest tenured beat reporter who covered both players easily can point out, is where the comparison ends: Whalen as a Gopher was a heady guard who drove hard to the basket for her buckets. Her outside shot didn’t become equally as deadly until she became a pro. Banham, on the other hand, has Stephen Curry-like three-point range, but can also drive to the basket.
Whalen helped the Gophers to three consecutive NCAAs in four years, including the Sweet 16 in 2003 and the Final Four in 2004. Her return from a broken hand in her senior year and subsequent on-court performance are for the ages and later propelled her into a 2004 WNBA top-four pick.
Banham’s only NCAA appearance, however, came during her senior year (2015), but she was unable to participate due to a season-ending ACL injury. Therefore her only post-season appearances were a 2012 Women’s Basketball Invitational championship in her freshman year and two WNIT berths. As a result, her drop it like it’s hot scoring prowess other than occasional Big Ten telecasts was rarely seen on the national stage.
“Anybody that puts up three games going 45-plus points is definitely going to get the attention because offense is a premium in the WNBA, and a player that can score the ball the way that she does, I think teams could find a role,” declared ESPN Analyst Carolyn Peck last week during a WNBA pre-draft media teleconference, which included the MSR.
This was her response after we asked if not getting in the NCAAs — a typical platform for players to enhance their draft prospects — may hurt Banham, who finished as the nation’s second-leading scorer who thrice this season scored 40-plus points, including a 60-point game and a 52-point game.
Rather, said Peck, what might hurt Rachel is not her scoring but her defense, especially since the Gophers the last two years played mostly zone. “Can she score more points than she give up?” stated the former WNBA coach/general manager on Banham.
“Whoever gets her will have a promising professional who put in the work and [will] be very proud of drafting her,” noted Minnesota Associate Head Coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins, who dismissed the notion that Banham only plays on one end of the court. “Rachel likes having the ball in her hands. It’s a good thing because she can pass and shoot.
“Her role on our team was to score baskets,” continued Dawkins. “When she gets to that level [the WNBA], her dribbling and passing ability will be an advantage to her.” The coach told the MSR that because Banham can play either guard position, “That gives her credibility when she gets drafted,” said Dawkins.
“Hopefully I may be back home, playing for the Lynx,” said Banham on the possibility of one day playing for the only local professional team that has won three championships in five years.
If mock drafts are correct, she, like Whalen a dozen years ago, will be long gone by the time Minnesota’s draft turn comes around Thursday.
Next: Texas center Imani Boyette
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.