Jim Souhan: Whalen shows us her Olympic face

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 22, 2012 - 6:32 AM

Minnesota star Lindsay Whalen takes her best game face to London.


United States Olympic National Team women's basketball members Candace Parker, left, Maya Moore, Angel McCoughtry, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, and Swin Cash watch a video before the men's practice Saturday, July 14, 2012 in Washington.

Photo: Alex Brandon, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Lindsay Whalen walks into the Oceanaire Seafood Room in downtown Minneapolis wearing her Team USA sweats and takes charge. "Let's sit in the bar," she says. "Someplace we can relax and see the TVs."

She commandeers a table in the corner and situates her party, then orders appetizers while her husband, Ben Greve, smiles knowingly at the point guard directing traffic.

Whalen, the most accomplished women's basketball player in Minnesota history, doesn't have much time. She's just finished practice with the Minnesota Lynx, is on her way to a photo shoot, has to pack for a trip to Los Angeles, and is a week away from leaving for a barnstorming tour with the U.S. basketball team that will compete in the London Olympics.

The obsessive sports fan asks about Zach Parise, then analyzes "her" Vikings. Whalen's humility probably doesn't allow her to acknowledge how well she fits into any discussion of Minnesota winners.

Whalen starred at Hutchinson High School, then elevated the Gophers women's team to unprecedented heights, including a Final Four appearance. She spent her first six seasons in the WNBA playing for the Connecticut Sun, making it to two league finals, and became a star in the Czech Republic. And just when it seemed she had faded from the Minnesota scene and entered the downslope of her career, the Lynx brought her back home and she put on what Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen calls "Her Whalen face," and started winning even more.

After being left off the 2008 Olympic team in part because of her wedding, Whalen made the 2010 USA team that won the FIBA world championship. Last summer, she led the previously woeful Lynx to a WNBA title, turning her nice little coming-home story into a reminder that her Gophers career was appetizer, not entrée.

Now Whalen is in London, excelling at point guard for the loaded U.S. team and preparing to win a gold medal at age 30, as her quest for championships continues to span the Northern Hemisphere.

"We were in Prague on a Friday afternoon when I got the call that I made the Olympic team," Whalen said. "I was half-asleep, watching TV after practice, and I immediately told Ben, then called my parents.

"My father kept saying, 'No ... no! I can't believe this!' It was a big moment."

In London, she and her teammates will share a hotel with LeBron James and the men's team, and Whalen plans to soak up an experience her mother says she should have enjoyed earlier.

"I know this is extremely important to her," Kathy Whalen said.

Family values

It's a typical weekday morning, and Kathy has just returned to her Hutchinson home following a 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift at the local 3M plant. She and her husband, Neil, work at the plant on varying schedules. "Oh, it's not a bad deal," Kathy says.

She sounds like her oldest daughter, and is even more blunt.

"I know this was extremely important to her," Kathy said. "She would have been terribly disappointed if she hadn't made the Olympic team. She felt that circumstances prevented her from making the last one, because she got married and missed an Olympic camp. I think she felt she deserved to go the last time, so I know she gave up a lot to make sure she made all the requirements and camps this time. She wants that gold medal."

Whalen grew up the oldest of six children. Neil was a standout high school hockey goalie, and Whalen's parents passed on their competitiveness through board games and match-play golf replete with trash-talking.

Not that Whalen needed prodding. She was the kid who organized the neighborhood pickup games. Her high school coaches gave her the run of the gym on weekends and in the summer, and she learned quickly that winning meant playing, and losing meant sitting on the sideline, absorbing the taunts of the victors.

"I had a 13-year-old-girl ask what she can do to get better, and I'm like, 'Play a lot of basketball,'" Whalen said. "I got more into drills and shooting in college. In high school, I just played, against guys and girls."

She signed with the University of Minnesota because she wanted her parents to see her play, but she wound up on Cheryl Littlejohn's last team, one that finished 1-15 in Big Ten play and played in the U of M Sports Pavilion, in front of crowds generously estimated at 1,000.

By the end of her career, Whalen was playing in Williams Arena, sometimes before sellouts, and taking the Gophers to the Final Four.

"I knew she'd stay at Minnesota, no matter how awful that program was," Kathy said. "I knew she would not leave home. Luckily, she got better coaching along the way.

"At first, it was horrible. At one point, her freshman year, she wanted to quit. She was so frustrated and disappointed in the way things were being run and just all the losing. We had one and only one conversation where she said, 'I wonder if I made the right choice.' I said that everything would fall into place."

The big rise

Brenda Oldfield replaced Littlejohn, and Pam Borton replaced Oldfield, and Whalen became a star, a remarkably fast and powerful point guard whose contortions near the basket often elicited gasps.

Connecticut took her in the WNBA draft, and while the league and the Lynx lost an easy marketing opportunity and busloads of fans at Target Center, Whalen said she matured and improved playing away from home.

And especially far away from home. For the past five years, she has spent summers playing in the WNBA and winters in Prague, where she is an imported star in the arena and an anonymous sightseer in the Czech capital.

Greve was an All-America golfer at Minnesota. He joined the Canadian Tour, what he calls "The Double-A baseball of the golf world," and built his schedule around Whalen's, spending much of each winter in Prague. Now he's working for State Farm in the Twin Cities and providing balance to what Whalen calls "a crazy life."

"I don't think she could do everything she does without his support," Kathy said.

The two met in a freshman statistics class at the U. "I kept showing up earlier and earlier, to make sure I could sit near her," Greve said.

They were both quiet athletes who loved talking sports. Greve was a standout basketball player at Annandale High, and the two would play pickup games together, although Greve would never allow himself to be lured into a game of 1-on-1. "No way," he said.

"He actually has a great jump shot, with great elevation," Whalen said. "And he was really fast."

Greve watched his girlfriend become a star and learned to identify the moment Whalen transforms from a workmanlike point guard into one of the best players in the world.

"When play gets a little physical, you'll see her get that look," he said. "And you know she's about to make something happen."

Petersen, another former University of Minnesota player, says there are different versions of "that look."

"In practice, she has the 'Whalen Face,' her competitive face," Petersen said. "Then, in games, there's the 'Whalen Glare.' Both of them are devastating. The 'Face' means death to the opponent. The 'Glare' means death to the individual. And sometimes 'The Glare' is directed at an official.

"She's so amazingly competitive. Last year, in San Antonio, she hit the game-winner in a game that kind of turned our season, put us on a championship arc. We played poorly in the first half and she came out in the third quarter and had that look, and hit a basket and had a steal and a layup and just catapulted us to that win."

Whalen will come home from a game, venting about an official's call or a bad play, and Greve will give her the quintessential golfer's perspective, that her team is winning and "it will all work out."

Going for gold

It has. No longer possessing an advantage in raw speed, Whalen has become an apt pupil under every coach she has had since Littlejohn. She is amazed by what Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve will see in practice, and she could see herself coaching after her playing career ends.

"I credit Coach Reeve for putting me in the mindset of always being aggressive," Whalen said. "When you're surrounded by great players, it's easy to be effective. And I'm motivated to do everything to the fullest, because you just don't know what's going to happen next."

But she's got a pretty good idea. Team USA is loaded. Whalen and Lynx teammates Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore expect to bring gold medals to their next Lynx practice, a year after winning a WNBA title. Whalen already helped spark a 21-0 run in an exhibition victory over Great Britain last week.

"Yeah, we're gonna hang out with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant at the team hotel," Whalen said in a voice filled with fake self-importance. "Most important thing is we have to try all the local food. Me and my teammates are serious about our food. We need to try fish-and-chips over there."

She leans across the table at Oceanaire, where she is gladly settling for shrimp. After teasing everyone at the table, she announces, "My next career is 'Saturday Night Live.' My teammates all say I should have my own variety show."

Greve isn't sure the entertainment could get much better. "For me, as a sports fan, to get to watch her compete at the highest level, and to have backstage access to this great basketball, has been a thrill," he said. "And it just keeps getting better."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Detroit 6:00 PM
Atlanta 6:30 PM
Toronto 6:30 PM
New York
Memphis 7:00 PM
Brooklyn 7:30 PM
Milwaukee 8:00 PM
San Antonio 8:00 PM
Buffalo 2 2nd Prd 8:17
Florida 0
Detroit 2 2nd Prd 9:15
Nashville 2
Carolina 4:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 4:00 PM
Arizona 4:30 PM
Toronto 6:00 PM
NY Rangers 7:00 PM
Minnesota 9:00 PM
St. Louis 9:00 PM
Ottawa 9:00 PM
San Jose
Kennesaw St 75 FINAL
Lipscomb 94
Navy 57 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 47
Bucknell 71 FINAL
American Univ 69
NC State 63 FINAL
Boston College 79
East Carolina 71 FINAL
UCF 66
Georgia Tech 63 FINAL
Clemson 70
Lehigh 55 FINAL
Colgate 61
Louisville 81 FINAL
Florida State 59
Missouri 44 FINAL
Georgia 68
Army 64 FINAL
Lafayette 74
Michigan 56 FINAL
Maryland 66
Georgetown 70 FINAL
St Johns 81
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
La Salle 56
Western Carolina 67 FINAL
Citadel 54
Nebraska Omaha 87 FINAL
Maine 56 FINAL
New Hampshire 65
Samford 80 FINAL
Va Military 69
Presbyterian 53 FINAL
Winthrop 80
Utah State 74 FINAL
Air Force 60
Vermont 73 FINAL
Albany 79
Binghamton 76
Indiana State 60 FINAL
Bradley 52
Butler 67 FINAL
DePaul 53
Illinois State 69 1st OT 0:02
Evansville 67
Wright State 46 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 61
Fla Gulf Coast 67 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Ole Miss 63 FINAL
LSU 73
North Carolina 73 FINAL
Miami-Florida 64
Wagner 64 FINAL
Mount St Marys 74
Oklahoma 67
Delaware 65 FINAL
Towson 60
Cincinnati 63 FINAL
Tulane 47
Dayton 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 55
Northern Iowa 60 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Drexel 80 FINAL
William & Mary 66
Oakland 63 FINAL
Green Bay 83
Villanova 78 FINAL
Xavier 66
Campbell 65 FINAL
Longwood 70
Sarah Lawrence 55 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 32 2nd Half 15:57
UAB 45
UNC-Asheville 56 2nd Half 14:46
Liberty 36
Southern Utah 52 2nd Half 11:28
North Dakota 41
Utah Valley U 14 2nd Half
Chicago State 30
ULM 19 1st Half 0:01
Appalachian St 34
Bowling Green 27 1st Half 1:51
Miami-Ohio 25
Long Island 28 1st Half 5:06
Sacred Heart 29
West Virginia 12 1st Half 11:29
Baylor 17
Holy Cross 13 1st Half 11:48
Boston Univ 12
MD-Eastern Shore 2 1st Half 19:00
Delaware State 0
Wofford 4 1st Half 14:03
Furman 9
Montana State 3 1st Half 15:08
Idaho 9
Hofstra 14 1st Half 10:17
James Madison 19
Iowa State 18 1st Half 10:31
Kansas State 12
Arkansas 8 1st Half 13:56
Kentucky 14
Missouri State 8 1st Half 12:20
Loyola-Chicago 16
Fordham 11 1st Half 13:19
Massachusetts 14
Nicholls 17 1st Half 11:02
McNeese State 16
East Tenn St 22 1st Half 10:45
Mercer 12
Coppin State 3:00 PM
Morgan State
San Diego 13 1st Half 11:37
Portland 13
Gardner-Webb 16 1st Half 9:47
Radford 15
St Francis-PA 5 1st Half 13:47
Robert Morris 13
Duquesne 14 1st Half 11:35
St Bonaventure 23
Creighton 18 1st Half 11:37
Seton Hall 8
Oklahoma State 8 1st Half 11:28
Texas Tech 8
Alabama 16 1st Half 9:06
Vanderbilt 12
Virginia Tech 11 1st Half 11:28
Virginia 8
Bethune-Cookman 3:00 PM
NC Central
St Francis-NY 4 1st Half 15:59
Bryant 11
Drake 11 1st Half 11:21
Southern Ill 20
High Point 3:30 PM
Char Southern
Central Conn St 3:30 PM
Eastern Mich 3:30 PM
Western Mich
Texas 4:00 PM
Chattanooga 4:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
SE Louisiana 4:00 PM
Central Arkansas
South Dakota St 4:00 PM
South Dakota
Montana 4:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Georgia State 4:15 PM
Old Dominion 4:30 PM
North Texas
Arkansas State 4:30 PM
Texas State
Texas Southern 5:00 PM
Alabama State
Tennessee St 5:00 PM
Princeton 5:00 PM
Dartmouth 5:00 PM
Tennessee 5:00 PM
Jacksonville St 5:00 PM
Morehead State
San Jose St 5:00 PM
Florida A&M 5:00 PM
Iowa 5:00 PM
Penn State
Loyola Marymount 5:00 PM
Miss State 5:00 PM
South Carolina
Savannah State 5:00 PM
SC State
Miss Valley St 5:30 PM
Jackson State
Alcorn State 5:30 PM
Southern U
Prairie View 6:00 PM
Alabama A&M
Harvard 6:00 PM
George Washington 6:00 PM
Syracuse 6:00 PM
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Eastern Ky
UNC-Wilmington 6:00 PM
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Hampton 6:00 PM
Northwestern 6:00 PM
Western Ill 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Kent State
Incarnate Word 6:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton 6:00 PM
Long Beach State
TX-San Antonio 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
Richmond 6:00 PM
Saint Josephs
George Mason 6:00 PM
Saint Louis
Austin Peay 6:00 PM
SE Missouri St
Murray State 6:00 PM
UT Martin
Ball State 6:00 PM
Penn 6:00 PM
Milwaukee 6:00 PM
Youngstown St
Stetson 6:00 PM
North Florida
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Grand Canyon 6:05 PM
Abilene Christian 6:15 PM
New Orleans
Northeastern 7:00 PM
Coll of Charleston
Tulsa 7:00 PM
Wyoming 7:00 PM
Central Mich 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
Denver 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Charlotte 7:00 PM
Boise State 7:00 PM
San Diego St
St Marys-CA 7:00 PM
Santa Clara
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
Southern Miss
Sam Houston St 7:00 PM
New Mexico St 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
FIU 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Ga Southern 7:15 PM
Ark-Little Rock 7:15 PM
Grambling St 7:30 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Auburn 7:30 PM
Texas A&M
Arizona 8:00 PM
Northern Ariz 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
UC Davis 0 1st Half
Cal Poly 0
New Mexico 9:00 PM
Fresno State
BYU 9:00 PM
Pacific 9:00 PM
San Francisco
Idaho State 9:00 PM
Weber State
Sacramento St 9:05 PM
Portland State
UC Riverside 9:30 PM
Washington 9:30 PM
CS-Bakersfield 9:30 PM
UC Irvine 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Michigan 60 FINAL
Illinois 72
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
Kennesaw St 75
North Florida 45 FINAL
Stetson 77
Samford 65 FINAL
Mercer 70
Liberty 64 FINAL
Campbell 57
North Texas 48 FINAL
Old Dominion 70
St Francis-NY 62 FINAL
Bryant 52
St Francis-PA 58 FINAL
Robert Morris 73
Long Island 71 FINAL
Sacred Heart 78
Sam Houston St 52 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 60
Kent State 59 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 66
Appalachian St 80
Boston U 62 FINAL
Holy Cross 76
Nicholls 73 FINAL
McNeese State 68
Akron 80 FINAL
Buffalo 87
Ball State 50 FINAL
Western Mich 51
MD-Eastern Shore 68 FINAL
Delaware State 61
Northern Ill 52 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 60
Bowling Green 47 FINAL
Ohio U 67
Central Michigan 53 FINAL
Toledo 62
Coppin State 55 FINAL
Morgan State 73
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
NC Central 33
Central Conn St 77 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 56
Memphis 24 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 87
Georgia Tech 67 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
East Carolina 69 FINAL
Temple 79
Marist 65 FINAL
Rider 56
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Purdue 56
Fairfield 72 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Niagara 53 FINAL
Iona 81
East Tenn St 42 FINAL
(18) Chattanooga 64
Furman 70 FINAL
Wofford 53
Longwood 58 FINAL
Charleston Southern 51
UNC-Asheville 87 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 53
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
USC Upstate 60
Winthrop 60 FINAL
Presbyterian 53
Western Ill 70 2nd Half 2:00
South Dakota 75
Detroit 78 FINAL
Valparaiso 57
Cleveland State 38 2nd Half 14:03
Milwaukee 33
Lafayette 34 2nd Half 12:01
Army 37
Arkansas State 35 2nd Half 14:32
Texas State 54
Georgia State 40 2nd Half 13:57
Troy 56
IUPUI 33 2nd Half 11:54
South Dakota St 62
Tennessee St 61 2nd Half 9:14
Belmont 37
Eastern Illinois 37 2nd Half 9:34
SIU-Edwardsville 47
Jacksonville St 58 2nd Half 4:33
Morehead St 59
Kansas State 28 2nd Half 10:36
TCU 42
Cincinnati 36 2nd Half 8:43
SMU 35
SE Louisiana 38 2nd Half 11:15
Central Arkansas 57
Denver 25 2nd Half 12:03
Nebraska Omaha 36
Tulane 39 2nd Half 9:52
Tulsa 40
IUPU-Ft Wayne 35 2nd Half 12:17
Oral Roberts 59
Air Force 16 1st Half 9:06
Utah State 16
San Diego State 13 1st Half 10:39
Boise State 14
Fresno State 11 1st Half 9:35
New Mexico 17
Florida A&M 15 1st Half 9:08
NC A&T 15
Gonzaga 14 1st Half 13:23
South Florida 24 1st Half 11:00
UCF 20
UCLA 4 1st Half 12:15
Washington 10
(3) Baylor 15 1st Half 8:36
Iowa State 21
Miss Valley St 15 1st Half 9:46
Jackson State 15
Tenn Tech 15 1st Half 9:26
Eastern Kentucky 16
UMKC 2 1st Half 12:00
Grand Canyon 12
Seattle 15 1st Half 9:51
CS-Bakersfield 14
Texas Southern 21 1st Half 11:55
Alabama State 10
Santa Clara 12 1st Half 11:39
St Marys-CA 13
UNLV 12 1st Half 11:29
Wyoming 21
Savannah State 0 1st Half 20:00
SC State 0
Alcorn State 3:00 PM
Southern U
Bucknell 0 1st Half 18:59
American Univ 2
Eastern Washington 12 1st Half 12:23
Montana 6
Idaho 20 1st Half 8:19
Montana State 17
Weber State 10 1st Half 10:31
Idaho State 17
Radford 10 1st Half 11:50
High Point 17
Green Bay 3:30 PM
Youngstown St
Oakland 3:30 PM
Austin Peay 3:30 PM
SE Missouri St
Wagner 3:30 PM
Mount St Marys
Portland 4:00 PM
San Diego
Nevada 4:00 PM
San Jose St
Stephen F Austin 4:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Incarnate Word 4:00 PM
Abilene Christian 4:00 PM
New Orleans
Pepperdine 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
San Francisco 4:00 PM
Prairie View 4:00 PM
Alabama A&M
Hampton 4:00 PM
Chicago State 4:00 PM
Utah Valley U
Murray State 4:00 PM
UT Martin
Cal Poly 4:00 PM
Marshall 4:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
Portland State 4:00 PM
Sacramento St
UC Santa Barbara 4:00 PM
UC Davis
Western Ky 5:00 PM
UAB 5:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Georgia Southern 5:00 PM
Grambling 5:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Ark-Little Rock 5:00 PM
Cornell 5:00 PM
Columbia 5:00 PM
Brown 5:00 PM
(14) Princeton
USC 5:00 PM
Washington St
(24) California 5:00 PM
(7) Oregon State
Yale 6:00 PM
Loyola-Maryland 6:00 PM
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
(21) Fla Gulf Coast
Long Beach St 6:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Rice 6:00 PM
Colgate 6:30 PM
CS-Northridge 7:00 PM
Kansas 7:00 PM
Oklahoma St 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
North Dakota 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Northern Colorado 9:00 PM
Northern Ariz
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters