Another legendary University of Minnesota guard is coming home from Connecticut.
The Lynx acquired Rachel Banham in a sign-and-trade deal with the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday, a move that brings the Lakeville native back home and sends a second-round pick in the 2021 WNBA draft to the Sun.
It fulfills a dream Banham has had, frankly, since she was a fourth-grader.
“I always wanted to play for the Lynx one day,” Banham said. “I always watched them. I watched them become a huge franchise. It has always been on my mind.’’
Banham is the Gophers’ career leading scorer — just ahead of Lindsay Whalen — and was a Big Ten Conference player of the year and an All-America. She was drafted fourth overall by Connecticut in the 2016 draft.
She joins a Lynx team needing outside shooting and help in the backcourt.
Lynx General Manager and coach Cheryl Reeve said the deal has been brewing for a while. The team had identified the 5-9 Banham as someone who could help them and knew Connecticut — which made a big free-agency splash with the signing of DeWanna Bonner — might be in a situation with their salary cap to make a deal.
“Timing is everything,’’ Reeve said. “And we didn’t bring [Banham] home to have the same role she had in Connecticut. We think that role will grow.’’
It’s a homecoming story that, in some ways, mirrors that of Whalen’s, another fourth overall pick who began her WNBA career in Connecticut.
Banham, who signed a multiyear deal, will get a lot of opportunity with the Lynx.
“I had a lot of talks with Cheryl, and I asked her what my role would be,’’ Banham said.
The answer: A combo guard who can shoot and score. A guard who needs the ball in her hands.
“I was so excited to hear that,’’ Banham said. “They’re looking for guards. The opportunity is there. I’m in my home state. This all worked out for me.’’
She appeared on 107 games in four years with the Sun, starting five, all in 2018.
She has career averages of 4.0 points, 1.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 11.4 minutes per game, shooting 36% from the field, including 33% from three-point range.
On a Connecticut team deep at guard, playing time was difficult to come by for Banham. Her best season was in 2018, when she appeared in 33 games, averaging 5.2 points and 1.5 assists.
With the Sun, she often came off the bench as an off-guard, catching and shooting more often than dribbling into her shot. She worked hard on that skill. But she is thrilled to get the chance to handle the ball more.
“That was always my role, growing up,’’ she said. “I was a point guard my entire life. I’m not the most traditional point guard. But I love to lead, love to pass. I’m a scoring guard, but I love passing.’’
Banham’s history with the Gophers suggests that her shooting numbers will rise with more opportunity.
Banham scored 3,093 points with the Gophers. Appearing in 144 games over five seasons — she received a medical redshirt after tearing the ACL in her right knee early in the 2014-15 season — she averaged 21.5 points in her college career, posting a 28.6-point average in her final season, second highest in the country.
That included a 60-point performance vs. Northwestern that season, a feat that drew the attention of former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, via Twitter.
Bryant tweeted at Banham after she hit a game-winner against Iowa a week later and the two eventually met when Banham attended a Lakers game.
The two formed a bond; the death of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash in January hit Banham particularly hard.
In her Gophers career, Banham set school records in points, scoring average, games in double figures in scoring (134), games with 20 or more points (82), 30 or more points (23), and 40 or more points (three).
She is also first in school history with 354 three-pointers made and third in three-point shooting percentage (39.4). Overall, she made 43.3% of her shots.
With Danielle Robinson gone, Reeve knows she doesn’t have a true point guard on the roster. So she’s decided to go more with a “lead guard’’ concept.
Banham and Lexi Brown figure to compete for time in that role. When training camp starts this spring, she and Banham will get to know each other better. Banham can’t wait.
“I always knew I wanted to play for my home state,’’ she said.