Gophers guard Rachel Banham, whose senior season was cut short when she tore a knee ligament last month, announced Friday that she will return for a final season of eligibility.
Banham made her announcement at a news conference attended by her team, which whooped and applauded when she revealed her decision. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in a Dec. 10 game against North Dakota, prematurely ending a season in which she was expected to surpass Lindsay Whalen as the top scorer in Gophers women’s basketball history.
Banham is 107 points away from the record of 2,285 points.
In a press release, the university said Banham had been granted a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA.
Banham had played nine games before her injury and was averaging 20 points, five assists and 4.7 rebounds.
“I’ve decided to finish my unfinished business on the court,’’ said Banham, who was named Big Ten preseason player of the year and was on watch lists for national player of the year awards. “I have a lot of stuff unfinished: NCAA tournament, records, being with my teammates. I love my team, and I want to be able to finish on the court with my jersey on, not on the sidelines.’’
Banham wore a large brace on her right leg but said her rehabilitation is going well and is ahead of schedule. The timetable for her return to basketball activities is six to nine months, she said.
Gophers coach Marlene Stollings still was emotional at the news that Banham, a Lakeville native, will return. The team was told after Thursday’s practice.
“This is a monumental day in Gophers women’s basketball,’’ said Stollings, who is in her first season with the Gophers. “Rachel’s decision to return speaks volumes about her trust and belief in her teammates, the Gophers community and the fan base, as well as the coaching staff and philosophy. (It) will have a significant impact on the future of this program.
“I think it will be invaluable, and not just for the program, but in the national scene. The significance of her coming back is not just felt here. She’s one of the top players in the nation, and for her to come back and represent on the college level is extraordinary.’’
Banham said she had been leaning toward returning ever since she was injured. She has been a constant and active presence on the Gophers’ sidelines, helping to coach and support her teammates.
In addition to her desire to pursue records and play in the NCAA tournament, Banham said she chose to return because her family enjoys watching her play at the U and she likes the fast-paced style implemented by Stollings and her staff. Banham is on schedule to graduate this spring with a degree in sociology.
She will attend graduate school next year but has not chosen a program.