It’s been nearly a month since the Minnesota women’s basketball team’s first season under a pandemic concluded.
Head Coach Lindsay Whalen reflectively told us, “At this time last year we didn’t know if we would be able to play a season. I think this year, to be able to play was an accomplishment. To be able to play 21 games…and give our young women good experience was a real productive time.
“It has taken its toll mentally and physically for the players. It’s been a long year for everybody,” she admitted. “The things that were thrown at me because of the pandemic…accelerated [my growth] even more.”
Minnesota women’s basketball historically has struggled to maintain a perennial presence as a Big Ten contender. This columnist over the years has chastised the Gophers, especially in its unsuccessful recruiting of local Black players, many of whom would sign elsewhere and come back to beat the pants off the home team as visitors.
The Gophers (7-11) won two more games in 2020-21 than in 2019-20.
Asked about recruiting the cities’ Black athletes, the Gopher coach responded, “If they can compete and they can play, we are going to recruit them. It’s something that as a program we will do our best to build relationships and continue to work to have players who we feel can add to our program.
“We always want the best players representing themselves and their communities, and representing the U as well,” she added.
There are no Twin Cities Black players currently, and Alanna Micheaux, a highly rated power forward from Michigan, is the only POC in the Gophers’ incoming recruiting class. Senior Gadiva Hubbard will use her NCAA pandemic waiver and return in 2021-22 for an extra year of eligibility. She is one of five Blacks on this past season’s roster.
Whalen, almost four years removed from a stellar college and pro playing career with no previous coaching experience when she was hired in 2018, said she is now more settled as a coach. “This is what I am supposed to be doing,” she stressed. “Every day I came in, I felt energized. I love coaching practice and I love the game.”
Like all college programs from coast to coast, Whalen and her staff are restricted from going off campus to recruit, and from bringing recruits in to campus as well. “We have our presentations on Zoom,” Whalen explained, “and different videos that are shown [to recruits]. It definitely is a big process to do all that. You got to get creative.”
A native Minnesotan who wanted to play college ball, Whalen strongly disagrees with those who see Williams Arena, a.k.a. The Barn, as a negative when recruiting the current generation of players.
“I think it is one of the best arenas in the country,” declared Whalen. “It’s a stadium that’s over 100 years old. It’s not for everybody, for sure. I think there’s enough [players] that still understand how historic an arena it is and how great to play in it. It is still a special place.
Whalen looks forward to the Gophers’ future when, with the incoming freshmen, “We’ll be at 15 [scholarship players] next year. I had a really great time with the team this year if you take the pandemic out of it.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.