INDIANAPOLIS – Lindsay Whalen was one of college basketball's biggest stars the last time she attended Big Ten media day as a player, but she was there Friday trying to get the country more familiar with her program in Year 4.
"I remember this as a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota, coming to Big Ten media day and how much fun that experience was," she said. "Created so much buzz."
Whalen, a former All-America and Lynx standout guard, welcomes back 12 players from a team that went 7-11 in the Big Ten. The Gophers are hoping to establish themselves as an NCAA tournament team for the first time under Whalen this season.
"I think we're really close to getting there," said senior guard Gadiva Hubbard, who joined Whalen representing the Gophers women's team at media day. "We definitely have the players to do what we need to do."
Three of the U's top four returning scoring leaders are in the backcourt, including co-leading scorers Sara Scalia and Jasmine Powell, who each averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game. Hubbard, who is a fifth-year senior, averaged 11.1 points last season. Sophomores Alexia Smith and Caroline Strande will also be in the mix for rotation minutes.
"We also have some really good freshmen who came in," Hubbard said. "We have two amazing grad transfers. Just working on our defense and rebounding will help get us to where we need to go in the Big Ten."
Having that experience returning could be a critical factor for the Gophers to make a jump into contention in a league that had seven NCAA tournament teams, including Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Michigan reaching the Sweet 16.
The league's four Sweet 16 teams are also returning all-league guards capable of keeping them at the top of the Big Ten this season, so the Gophers have to match up with that backcourt talent every night.
"Jaz and Sara are juniors, so they've been through two years now of conference play," Whalen said. "Gadiva Hubbard is back with us for another year with the COVID year. Just having her leadership and having those two in our backcourt for all those years is going to be a great asset to our team. I'm excited for them and their opportunity this year."
Having been to Big Ten media day in the past, Whalen hopes this experience together for the men's and women's programs Thursday and Friday will bring more attention and enthusiasm to college basketball heading into the season.
"I know if I was walking in here getting ready to play a season, compete in the Big Ten, this would get me motivated and very excited," Whalen said. "The fact that we are all here together, that we have a great men's conference, a great women's conference in basketball, I think it just shows our conference and just how much of a priority [basketball is]."