Before they took their respective games to the pros, Amanda Zahui B. and Rachel Banham became the Gophers’ second-best scoring duo in school history, with nearly 2,100 combined points in their two seasons as teammates (2013-15).
“I have so many memories from my time at the U, with the team and Rachel,” the 6’-5” Zahui B., a native of Sweden, said of the 5’-9” Lakeville native.
The two players set both school and Big Ten records, including rebounds and blocks for Zahui B. and consecutive games started and scoring for Banham, as well as finishing as one of 11 players to score 3,000 career points. Both were voted conference freshman of the year in their respective first seasons (Banham, 2011; Zahui B., 2014) and first-team all-conference.
But most importantly, the Gopher twosome gave opponents fits: They played off each other beautifully.
“I find it hard to believe that anyone ever would have a hard time playing with her,” Zahui B. said of Banham. “I think Rachel and I clicked so well on the court because, first thing first, we both love to have fun.”
Banham agreed: “We’re both goofy, fun people. We just loved to play basketball, compete and win. We get along super well naturally.
“We trusted each other,” she added. “We were able to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
“We had a play,” Zahui B. recalled. “I just had to set a drag screen for Rachel right by half court. She would go off and score or find the open man. It worked almost every time.”
“She set incredible screens,” Banham remembered, “so I would get open. I was a pretty good passer and I could find her down low.”
Zahui B. admitted, “It was just a look. We just locked eyes and I knew which side she wanted the screen on.”
Zahui B. and Banham are among four Gophers who became WNBA first-round picks: Zahui B. by Tulsa in 2015, the second overall pick that year, later traded to New York in 2017; and Banham in 2016 by Connecticut, fourth overall.
Heading into her sixth season, Zahui B. is now coming into her stride as a WNBA player. Last season was perhaps her best year with a career-high 37 points against LA and starting 23 of 24 games. She made her first career start at Minnesota in 2016, scoring15 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Now playing in China, the fifth country where she’s spent her W offseasons, Zahui B. noted, “I am super excited about the upcoming W season.” The Liberty has a new owner, new coaches, and a new home as well.
“It will be great playing in Brooklyn,” she said, “and stepping into my sixth year as a WNBA player and vet now is such a blessing. I am very excited about the turnaround that the team will do and just have a greater season than the last.”
Banham, who’s in town preparing for her upcoming fifth W season, played in 29 games last season as a reserve; the Connecticut Sun finished runners-up in this past season’s finals to Washington. “It was so cool” playing for a title, she said. “It’s something you dream about. Of course, it’s heartbreaking not to win it all, but to play in the Finals is incredible.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.