Standing in the back of the Mayo Clinic practice facility at Lindsay Whalen’s retirement news conference Monday, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle wore a maroon and gold tie signifying the next chapter in her basketball life.
Tears were shed about the end of an amazing playing career, but excitement also was in the air about Whalen soon focusing her full attention on being the Gophers women’s basketball coach.
“Lindsay and I had lots of conversations about it,” Coyle said about retirement this season. “What a great day it is for her as she winds down the regular season and gets ready for the playoffs. We’ll continue to support her and look forward to get her on campus and doing great things for the program.”
Whalen handled both jobs as college coach and WNBA player better than anyone could have expected the past several months, Coyle said. He would often connect with Whalen in her Athletes Village office even on nonpractice days to discuss her plans for the team.
“She put together a phenomenal staff,” Coyle said. “Our student-athletes have been awesome working with her and her staff. One of the things we liked about her and that she talked about is how she needed to outwork people. She’ll continue to work hard. That’s a trademark of who she is. We’ve seen that this past summer.”
When it came to recruiting, Whalen jumped headfirst into watching as many AAU games as she could and talking to prospects. She had to resist the urge to spend too much time with the Gophers on the days she needed to rest and prepare for Lynx games.
Doing that much juggling wasn’t going to be ideal long-term past this season, Whalen said.
“You realize everything that it takes to do this,” she said. “You’re a head coach and point guard for a WNBA championship team. It’s a lot. At certain times, you kind of realize that. Doing it probably more than one season, probably wouldn’t be possible.”
Whalen’s assistants Carly Thibault-Dudonis, Danielle O’Banion and Kelly Roysland have been coaching the Gophers during their eight-day tour in Italy, which has been more than just sightseeing in Florence. The team is 2-0 against international competition.
The only evaluation Whalen shared Monday on the Italy trip so far is that “they won and they’re eating lots of pasta and gelato. So it’s going well,” Whalen joked.
“Before they left for Italy, they allowed you to have 10 practices,” Whalen said. “I was able to go to two or three of those. It’s different when you’re going to practice and coaching a practice. That’s a big day. That’s a lot, but I was able to get over there kind of when I could.”
Stillwater senior guard Sara Scalia, who was Whalen’s first commitment, said Whalen told her in the spring this was probably going to be her final season playing in the WNBA.
Scalia, who wore Whalen’s Lynx jersey growing up, described how she will remember her future coach as a player.
“When she stepped onto the court, she always gave it her all,” she said. “No matter if she was in pain or anything. She always gave it her all. And I just really looked up to her as a player. I just loved the way she played and her intensity and confidence.”