Lindsay Whalen – Minnesota Gophers
“My close friends and teammates will tell you that I’m loose and pretty goofy off the court,” admits University of Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen. “On the court,” adds the 5’8″ Junior, “I don’t want to be too high or too low – just keep a calm demeanor-that’s the way I’ve always played.”
Whalen’s ability to maintain an even keel has served the Minnesota native well during her tenure as a Golden Gopher. Though she had one of the most outstanding freshman seasons in Minnesota history, including being named to the Big Ten All-Rookie team, the Gophers posted yet another losing campaign, finishing a miserable 8-20. Then coach Cheryl Littlejohn was fired, leaving behind a disheartened program struggling under a cloud of impending NCAA rules violation investigations.
2001 saw a complete reversal of the team’s fortune. New coach Brenda Oldfield (now Frese) inspired the players and stunned all the experts by guiding Minnesota to 22-8 record and an invitation to the NCAA tournament. A loss in the round of 32 barely dimmed the accomplishments of a stellar season: home attendance quadrupled, Oldfield earned AP Coach of the Year honors, and Whalen was named Big Ten Player of the Year, averaging over 22 points a game (shooting a breath-taking 56% from the field), while dishing out 159 assists.
But when Oldfield (followed by much of her staff) abruptly departed in April to become head coach at Maryland, Minnesota’s future was once again thrown into turmoil. Many team members, Whalen included, were outspoken about their disillusionment and anger at Oldfield’s actions. While Whalen has no intention of backing away from any of her comments last spring, it’s clear she has moved on. “There is no grudge,” she explains. “We wish them the best of luck — that’s all you can do. We’ve got to concentrate on what we’ve got here.”
With Minnesota having escaped the NCAA’s dreaded “death penalty,” Whalen is eager to apply lesson’s learned from a summer spent on the gold medal winning USA Basketball Under-20 team. Teamed with the likes of Rutgers’ highly touted point guard Cappie Pondexter and Penn State’s sharp-shooter Kelly Mazzante, Whalen learned what it will take to lift her game to the next level – in particular, realizing what to expect from her opponents.
“Everyone knows from last year getting lay-ups and taking it straight to the hole is what I do well,” Whalen explains. “Now to be able to combat that, people are going to be taking that away. I have to develop more of a medium range and outside game.”
Whalen also understands the limitations of being a one-dimension player. “Obviously, when [people] look at my total over all game – offensively I’m a lot stronger,” admits Whalen. “But someday, if I continue to improve defensively, people will recognize me for that also.” To that end, she expects to benefit from new coach Pam Borton’s focus on man to man based team.
“Defense is all reaction – it’s an art,” says Whalen. “It’s something that’s tough. You ask anyone – it’s hard work. It’s just being determined and setting your mind to it that you can do it. Getting my feet a little quicker and playing better on-the-ball defensive pressure are things that I can improve on.”
Well-versed in the vagaries of basketball, Whalen resists framing team goals in traditional terms. “Obviously we’d love to have a Big Ten championship,” she notes. “We’d love to make it to the Sweet 16. We’d love to win the Big Ten tournament. Those things are great, but they don’t always determine the success a team had.”
Instead, Whalen hopes her recruiting class won’t be thought of as “the team that’s had three coaches in four years,” but be remembered as players who willingly joining a program at risk and made a difference.
“When we came in as freshmen,” recalls Whalen, “we wanted to turn things around and that’s what we did — regardless of the coaching, It just shows what a group of people we have here,” she continues. “We’ve got it going in the direction we want to go. Hopefully, over the next two years, when we leave we’ll leave it to the next group, it’ll just continue on. We’ll be starting a tradition here – and [have] started a really great basketball program.”