When the Gophers women’s basketball team opens the Big Ten season at home on Jan. 1 against Maryland, Rachel Banham’s No. 1 jersey will be retired and lifted into the Williams Arena rafters.
Banham’s record-setting career, as the leading scorer in Big Ten history, will be celebrated again.
Carlie Wagner can’t wait to share that moment with her former teammate. But the junior guard is just as eager to see the Gophers quickly establish themselves in the post-Banham era, which starts under those rafters Nov. 12 against Harvard.
It might seem overwhelming for Minnesota to think about replacing Banham, but Wagner embraces the challenge.
“She laid down a foundation for me to build off of,” Wagner said. “She taught me how to do things and be the player I am. I wouldn’t say that she’s putting pressure on me. She paved a way for me to get there. She’s been a big part of my career, and I thank her for that.”
Banham had her rookie season with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun cut short in July after knee surgery. She stopped by a few times to check on her alma mater, most recently this month to chat with Wagner about goals for the upcoming season.
“I think she will do great,” Banham said. “She just has to stay confident and believe in herself and lead the team. Talked to her recently about more off-the-court leadership stuff. The main thing I consistently tell her is to stay confident and lead.”
A 5-10 New Richland, Minn., native, Wagner is the Gophers’ top returning scorer at 18.9 points per game. Her average could easily increase with the absence of Banham, who tied an NCAA record with a 60-point game and boasted a conference-record 30.5 ppg average last season.
It’s not hard to imagine Wagner putting up eye-popping numbers, considering her 53-point game in high school is still a Minnesota state tournament record. But Gophers coach Marlene Stollings won’t rely on Wagner to carry the scoring load as much as Banham did last season.
Not many players in the history of women’s college basketball have done that.
“Basically we’re looking for her to take on more of a leadership role,” Stollings said. “She’s got so much experience. You know she led the Big Ten in minutes played last year [37.8]. She has a ton minutes logged here in just two years. Our hope is that she’s a junior who performs more like a senior.”
Joanna Hedstrom and Allina Starr are senior guards who will be major contributors. But Stollings said Wagner could be joined by as many as four new starters this season. She could share the backcourt with Marquette transfer and former Bloomington Kennedy star Kenisha Bell, and either Jasmine Brunson or Gadiva Hubbard, both freshmen.
“Every practice is a new five, and coaches are just trying to see how we play together,” Hubbard said. “I think we all play pretty good with Carlie.”
Brunson said: “She’s just a great person to have on your team. She’s always going to be vocal with you and talk to you. If you don’t understand something, then she’s going to help you out. She just makes up for many mistakes out there on the floor.”
Wagner was named to the All-Big Ten preseason team by the media this week. She smiled and immediately answered “definitely” when asked Wednesday if she hopes to one day have her name mentioned with the player whose jersey will soon hang in the Barn.
“I want to make an impact on this program that lasts awhile,” Wagner said. “Not just about what I did on the basketball court, but what I do off the basketball court and how I can help my teammates.”