For four months Lindsay Whalen was Minnesota coach and WNBA player
Lindsay Whalen thought maybe one day she’d be the head women’s basketball coach at Minnesota.
That’s her alma mater, where Whalen is the all-time leading scorer, and where she led the Gophers to their only appearance in the NCAA Final Four as a senior in 2004.
Whalen thought she may coach the Gophers someday. She just didn’t think it would happen while she was still holding down another pretty big job as the point guard for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA.
But that’s what happened when Whalen was hired as the Gophers’ coach on April 12, 2018. She’s now in her first season as head coach, and the 23rd-ranked Gophers play Nebraska on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The game will be on TV on ESPN2.
From April to August, Whalen pulled double duty as coach of the Gophers and player for the Lynx. While it was the college offseason, Whalen had to organize a staff and recruit. Both teams are in Minneapolis, so she’d attend Lynx practice, then make the short drive to campus for her other job.
At the time she was hired, Whalen wouldn’t say how long she would continue to play, but four months later she announced that she’d retire from the WNBA. Her final game was on Aug. 21 when the Lynx lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Dawn Staley, now the head coach at South Carolina, also played in the WNBA while coaching Temple.
Whalen is a four-time WNBA champion and the winningest player in league history. Ex-Husker Lindsey Moore was Whalen’s teammate with the Lynx on the 2013 title team. Whalen ranks in the top-20 in WNBA history in points, assists and steals. She also won two Olympic Gold medals.
The Minnesota job opened after last season when Marlene Stollings resigned to become the coach at Texas Tech. Minnesota had just finished a good season, going 24-9 and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Whalen, 36, had never been a coach, but had played for some of the best coaches in women’s basketball and would excite the Gopher fans. She grew up in Hutchinson, about one hour from Minneapolis.
“Timing is such a crazy thing,” Whalen said when she was hired. “I didn’t think (coaching) would be when I was still playing in the WNBA, but what an opportunity that is.”
As a college player from 2000 to ’04, Whalen was part of the greatest stretch in program history. She led the Gophers to the NCAA Sweet 16 as a junior, and the Final Four as a senior. That season, there was a crowd of 14,363 for a home game.
Whalen said it’s a thrill to coach the Gophers.
“The University changed my life, and I want them to have that same experience,” she said. “I want the women on the team to have that same feeling of running out to (Williams Arena) with 14,000 people screaming and chanting and then going to a Final Four.”
This season, there was record-breaking crowd of 14,625 for Whalen’s first game as coach. The Gophers won their first 12 games and reached No. 12 in the rankings, but have gone just 1-4 since.
Now in the Big Ten season, Whalen is coaching against some of the teams she played against in college. Maryland coach Brenda Frese was actually Whalen’s coach at Minnesota for her sophomore season.
“First of all, it’s bigger, so when I played there was 11 teams, and now we have 14,” said Whalen of the Big Ten. “And look at the teams we added with Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, so just some legends of the game. It’s gotten a lot better, no question. I feel like it’s one of the better women’s basketball conferences in the country.”
Nebraska’s Amy Williams and Purdue’s Sharon Versyp are the other head coaches in the Big Ten working at their alma mater.