When Gadiva Hubbard arrived on the University of Minnesota campus in the fall of 2016, she saw potential with the Gophers women’s basketball team she had joined. She was part of a good freshman class, and Carlie Wagner and Kenisha Bell were established leaders. It would just take some time.
One year later, in Hubbard’s sophomore season, the Gophers went 24-9 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
This fall, Hubbard can see the potential again.
“I see a lot of talent,” Hubbard said. She was referring to the starting backcourt of Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia, both of whom were on Big Ten all-freshman teams last season. And five-star recruit Alexia Smith. And graduate transfer Laura Bagwell-Katalinich. And Kadi Sissoko, once a top-10 recruit in the country who is ready to go after sitting out last season as a transfer.
“We’re good,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard is seeing it from a different perspective. Years ago she was an underclassman. Now she and Bagwell-Katalinich are the only seniors on the Gophers roster. Hubbard, who missed the 2018-19 season — coach Lindsay Whalen’s first — because of injury, has seen it all.
An NCAA tournament berth, and the frustration of a lost season. She played through last season, which was marred by the suspension and ultimate transfer of Destiny Pitts and the strains that put on the team in a season the Gophers ended 16-15.
And of course coronavirus, which has sliced all but two games from the Gophers’ nonconference slate and pushed back the start of the season to Wednesday. Hubbard said she considered not returning for her redshirt senior season. But, ultimately, she couldn’t stay away. She said she wants to leave the program in a good place.
“I want to be known as a good scorer, a good three-point shooter,” she said. “But, mostly, as a good teammate. I want us to make it to the Big Ten [tournament] championship game, if it gets that far. And back to the [NCAA] tournament.”
To Whalen, Hubbard has already proven to be a good teammate.
“We’ve gotten really close,” Whalen said. “Both on and off the court. We’ve been through so much together. She stuck with us.”
This year’s team, Hubbard said, already feels closer than last year’s did.
“We trust each other a lot more,” she said. “We’re getting there.”
Hubbard, a 5-11 wing Whalen said can play anywhere from point guard to small forward, has started 74 of her 86 career games. She is 20th in program history with 1,072 points with a decent chance, if she remains healthy, of reaching the top 15.
Hubbard is seventh all-time in three-pointers made (178) and attempted (510) and is a career 34.9% shooter from behind the arc. As last season progressed, Whalen relied on Hubbard more and more as a defensive stopper. She led the team in steals (53) and averaged 11.2 points per game.
Her role this season could fluctuate, though Hubbard will be relied on heavily during nonconference play as injuries and illness leave Whalen with only seven players — Hubbard being one of them — available for Wednesday’s opener.
Whalen had little depth last season, one reason the starters played so many minutes. When everyone is healthy this year, there will be depth and options.
Hubbard could start, or she could be a scorer off the bench. She very much wants the former, but is willing to do what it takes.
“I trust coach’s decision,” she said. “But I’ve been working hard to make sure she doesn’t have to take me off the court.”
Mostly, Hubbard wants to win. The Gophers weren’t mentioned in the Big Ten’s preseason polls. Nobody has them vying for a top-five spot in the conference — which is understandable given the team’s unknowns.
Sissoko hasn’t played in two years and nobody has seen the impact transfers will have, not to mention a strong freshman class. With the team, Whalen has drawn comparisons to her college career when, in her sophomore season, the Gophers went from eight victories the year before to 22 and an NCAA berth.
“We’ve talked about surprising some people,” Hubbard said.