Curtailed second season gives Whalen ample time to reflect

Courtesy of Twitter Coach Lindsay Whalen confers with guards Destiny Pitts (far left) and Kenisha Bell.

The mandatory stay-home mandate currently in place has changed the typical ways of college coaches in their recruiting and how they keep in touch with their current players during the offseason.  

Up until now, Zoom was to me a 1977 classic song title from the Commodores. Now it’s standard equipment for coaches. “We are able to call, text, Facetime,” Minnesota Coach Lindsay Whalen explained on using Zoom, the video app that has been around since 2011.  

The forced stay-home time also allowed the second-year Gopher coach some self-reflection time: “I’ve taken time to figure out what I could’ve done differently as a head coach to make things not go the way they did in the middle part of the season, “she admitted.

Her two-year record is 36-25 (14-22 in the Big Ten). After a 21-11 first year and a .500 conference record, the Gophers struggled in league play this season even with then-leading scorer Destiny Pitts, who left the program in January under strange circumstances, the full story of which we still don’t know. 

Speaking briefly on Pitts, who was suspended indefinitely before the junior decided to transfer, Whalen stressed, “I still feel like that that was a step that had to be taken. I am thinking back to what I could have done differently in the things leading up to that.  

“It was a stand I had to take for our program because this is how I wanted to do things the right way,” the coach said. 

There were some bright spots, however, in an otherwise disappointing season. Junior Gadiva Hubbard surpassed 1,000 career points. She had already made the school’s three-pointer list before missing all last season due to injury: eighth in attempts and 10th in makes.  

Whalen said she thought the 5’-9” guard was starting to return to her former form near the end of the non-conference season. “Then we hit the Big Ten where the players are bigger, stronger and faster. I think at times that bothered her with her jump shot. Toward the second half of conference, she really stepped up and was able to come back and be a huge factor, a positive force.” 

Senior Taiye Bello finished as the fifth Gopher player to grab 1,000 rebounds. But the brightest spot undoubtedly went to freshman guard Jasmine Powell. 

Originally slated to be among the first off the bench, the 5’-6” guard quickly impressed all with her fearlessness to the basket. The young player eventually became a starter and virtually took over as the team’s leading scorer.

Powell and Sara Scalia also finished as the second-highest freshmen scoring duo in school history, behind Whalen and Tanisha Gilbert (2000-01) and ahead of Amanda Zahui B. and Stabresa McDaniel (2013-14), Ashley Ellis-Milan and Brittany McCoy (2006-07), and Hubbard and Bello (2016-17).

“I think her development took a huge step when I inserted her in the starting lineup,” Whalen said of Powell.  

Even more impressive was Powell’s maturity. Whalen marveled, “She is one of the most accomplished people I have ever been around. She just has a basketball IQ that goes beyond her years. I feel that I am talking with a senior.”

Powell’s next step is to become more consistent. “My thing for her is consistency every day,” Whalen said. “That is a huge step. 

“I want her to work on [her] midrange [jump shot]. We know she can finish at the basket. We know she can pass it and is a great defender. I want her to add that midrange game, and a floater to keep teams on her heels.”

If they are given time, it usually takes a coach three to five years to mold the type of program she or he really wants. In other words, Whalen’s learning curve is nearly at the halfway point.

“I think it is something you grow into,” she said. “Until you go through it, it is something that you don’t prepare for. I’ve grown into it, but as far as coaching the game, I definitely was more comfortable in year two than in year one. 

“In wanting to be a head coach at Minnesota for a long time, this is a time to really think back to what I could have done differently and how am I going to do differently from here on out.”