Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said he conducted three interviews for the women’s basketball coaching job last week, but only one of the candidates was a home run hire.
Coyle knew when he convinced former University of Minnesota All-America pick and current Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen to take the job on Wednesday that it meant an instant recruiting jolt for the program.
“There’s not a living room she won’t be able to get into,” Coyle said at Whalen’s introductory news conference. “I watched her transform the state during her career here at Minnesota. Who she is and not only how she represents this institution, but the Lynx and the state of basketball in Minnesota — she is the Mount Rushmore.”
The emphasis on bringing in more talent to the Gophers is shared by Whalen, who recognizes how strong the state of Minnesota continues to be at the high school level.
“There are a ton of great players in this state,” she said Friday. “We’re going to do our best to make sure those players are wanting to stay home. It should be a fun and good challenge.”
Senior guard Carlie Wagner, who was drafted by the Lynx this week, is the last high school player to sign with the U from Minnesota. She was part of former Gophers coach Pam Borton’s last recruiting class in 2014. Marlene Stollings, who replaced Borton, didn’t sign a state prep player in her four years.
Whalen’s top returning player is former Bloomington Kennedy star and All-Big Ten junior guard Kenisha Bell, but she transferred back to Minnesota from Marquette.
The top prep prospect in the state, regardless of class, is Hopkins sophomore guard Paige Bueckers, who ranks as ESPN’s No. 6 overall player in 2020.
Bueckers, who has a scholarship offer from UConn, is too young for Whalen to contact right now, but the Gophers likely have a better shot at landing her having a local legend as their coach.
“It’s a great hire,” said Bueckers’ high school coach, Brian Cosgriff, rattling off Whalen’s high school, college, WNBA and Olympic accolades. “How much better are you going to do? I’m glad they did it quickly because it’s a big recruiting season, and it’s coming soon.”
Cosgriff didn’t want to speculate how much Whalen’s presence means to Bueckers’ college decision.
“It’s not going to hurt, I can tell you that,” he said. “I think she kind of changed the face of Minnesota basketball, I really do. There’s really not much more she can do [as a player]. I think it’s a great hire.”
The state’s 2018 class has five players signed to play for high-major programs, including Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the Big Ten. The top player in Minnesota’s 2019 class, Holy Angels forward Destinee Oberg, has already committed to Arkansas. Wayzata’s Kallie Theisen, a four-star forward, is undecided.
The Whalen effect hasn’t resulted in a commitment yet, but that might change once she gets out on the recruiting trail.
“Recruiting is going to be the biggest thing with her,” said Rachel Banham, the Gophers’ all-time leading scorer. “Being a Minnesota kid and playing for the Lynx, every single person is going to know her and what she did. That already gives her one up on anybody who is going to recruit Minnesota kids. I think kids are going to get excited. How cool is that to play for Lindsay Whalen? Just saying that is awesome. I think if I was in high school and she offered me I would immediately say, ‘Yes.’ ”