The plan was for Rachel Banham to come home to find herself and her game. In a way, it happened. But not here in her native Minnesota. In the WNBA bubble in Florida.
Banham was a star at Lake- ville North High School, set scoring records with the University of Minnesota and was chosen fourth overall in the 2016 draft by Connecticut. She was a strong, confident scorer who was best off the dribble, creating, scoring, passing.
And then, in Connecticut, she was put in a corner.
Seriously. Banham knew she wasn't going to be getting 20-plus shots a game like she did with the Gophers. But she didn't expect to be asked to come off the bench, go into a corner and shoot threes off the pass.
"I feel I kind of lost myself a little bit in those years,'' Banham said of her four years with the Sun, when she started just five games and never averaged more than 12.8 minutes per game. "It is hard to kind of lose a little bit of that freedom, because going from college, I was on the dribble. I scored off the dribble. It was such an adjustment for me.
"I think coming here was helpful, to be able to play multiple positions. I wasn't stuck in the corner or on the wing."
Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve acquired Banham in a trade before the 2020 season for a second-round pick in the 2021 draft.
When the 2020 WNBA season finally got underway in the bubble in Bradenton, Fla., Reeve gave Banham more time (a career-high 17-plus minutes per game), more leeway (she played both point and off-guard) and more freedom.
She gave Banham the green light to do what she does best, create off the dribble. "Cheryl gave me so much confidence,'' Banham said. "That has to come from me; it can't come from somebody else. But she definitely helped me with that, being able to say, 'Shoot it,' or 'Why aren't you shooting the ball?'"
Still, regaining her confidence was a season-long project.
"She landed on being a player we really started to count on,'' Reeve said. "So I think she enjoyed that role, once she figured out what I wanted from her."
Banham finished the season with career highs in nearly every category: minutes, scoring (6.9 average), shooting (46.2 %). She was the team's best three-point shooter (47.2%).
And things got better as the season went along. In Minnesota's final seven regular-season games Banham averaged 10 points and 3.4 assists, shot 58.1% overall and made 16 of 25 three-pointers. In the regular-season finale, starting at the point with Crystal Dangerfield being given a rest, Banham scored 29 points on 10-for-14 shooting, making seven of eight threes and getting 10 assists, her first professional double-double.
It was a vintage performance for anyone who saw Banham play for the Gophers.
Having her season end on a crescendo helped boost the confidence into this season, during which she wants to become more of a leader. Her role could change. With the addition of perimeter scorers Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers, Reeve said she sees Banham more of a true backup to Dangerfield on the point.
"I think Rachel's passing is underrated," Reeve said. "And her ability to make plays in the pick-and-roll. She's a good, smart basketball player."
Reeve sees Dangerfield and Banham as players who can provide different things, and she doesn't expect a drop-off when Banham enters the game.
Here's one final bonus. Banham was excited to come home, only to have to go to Florida to play for the Lynx last season. This year the team will be back to playing home games at Target Center, and Banham is thrilled by the idea of playing in front of home crowds, even if those crowds are limited by coronavirus restrictions.
"I've been wanting to play in front of our fans forever, since I left college,'' she said.