OK, yes. For a few moments after she got the news, when she found out her rookie season with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun would be cut short with yet another surgery looming, Rachel Banham felt a little picked upon.
The questions: Why me? Why again? Is this fair?
It’s not fair that Banham, the former Lakeville North High School and Gophers star guard, taken fourth overall by Connecticut in the 2016 WNBA draft, was facing major knee surgery for the third time in only a handful of years. But then, experience taught her to not dwell too long on why before focusing on when.
As in, when she will return.
“If I’d never been through this before, I would have been devastated,” Banham said.
It was early last season when she started feeling pain in her right knee, the same one she had reconstructed after tearing the ACL early in her fourth year with the Gophers. At first she thought it was a minor meniscus tear, something that could be dealt with quickly. She tried to play through it. Ultimately, she found she needed microsurgery on the knee.
Another season ended, this time after 15 games.
“But,” she said, “I’d been through it before. I knew what it was going to take. I was ready to get started.”
Banham, 23, will be at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night when the Sun plays the Lynx. For Banham, the Gophers’ all-time leading scorer, it is a much-anticipated hometown professional debut.
“I can hardly wait,” she said after the Sun finished practice at Xcel on Monday. “I worked hard for this.”
If history has shown anything, you can expect she will come back strong again. She had surgery on both knees to alleviate patellar tendinitis before her junior year in college, returning to average 22.1 points. Ten games into her senior season, she tore the ACL in her right knee. Awarded a medical redshirt, she came back a year later to average 28.6 points a game, tie an NCAA record with 60 points against Northwestern and be named Big Ten player of the year.
Banham credits her family and fans for their support. She spent the fall and winter rehabbing at the Mayo Clinic’s facility in downtown Minneapolis, which is connected to the Lynx’s practice facility; Banham got encouragement from players such as Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore.
“I got to live at home,” she said. “My parents pushed me, made sure I was doing what I needed to do. Just being parents. Keeping an eye out.”
Now Banham is working her way back, slowly. She said she feels great, but Sun coach Curt Miller acknowledged Banham isn’t quite 100 percent yet. She played sparingly in the first two games of the season.
“People will never realize how much pain she did play through last season,” Miller said. “We finally had to shut her down, but the kid was a warrior for us. I pray for the day this league will get to see her play healthy. It hasn’t seen that yet.”
Miller and the Sun have big expectations for Banham and her scoring ability. But it will take time, both to get completely healthy and to get all of her confidence back.
“I don’t think I’m being aggressive enough,” she said. “I don’t have a good reason for it. But I need to get there. I know I can get there.”
When she enters Tuesday’s game — which will be attended by more than 50 family members and friends — Banham said she will be smiling but also nervous. And if she’s not 100 percent now, she will be.
“Each time I’ve come back strong,” she said. “I think I can do it again.”