Good as Gold
by Jim Burke
Lindsay Whalen has seen it all. In a little over 2 seasons as a college basketball player she has endured the drudgery of a losing season, enjoyed the satisfaction of a winning season and adapted to the styles of 3 different head coaches. The departure of one-year-wonder Brenda Oldfield (now Brenda Frese) after last season only added drama to the already soap opera-like atmosphere surrounding the Gopher Womens basketball program. In the midst of her junior season, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and leader of the team that many pick to challenge for the conference title, is not satisfied. You might call her young and restless.
Whalen does not shrink from the high expectations and national attention she has helped earn for her team. " Thats what we wanted to do when we came here, be recognized as one of the best teams in the Big Ten." That achieved, Whalen prepared for the season helping the USA Basketball Under-20 team to a gold medal while working to improve her own game. "I worked on my outside shot a lot. Getting to the basket and getting out in transition have been my strong points. I have also worked on my middle-range game."
And then theres the defense. Lindsay was the leading scorer (22.2 ppg) on a Gopher team that led the Big Ten in scoring last season but also led in points allowed. She knows that in order to compete for a Big Ten title and advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament, team defense as well as her own has to improve. New head coach Pam Borton brings a heavy emphasis on defense and is pleased with the way Lindsay has bought in to her system, " I think she is a work in progress but her defensive intensity has picked up 100% from when we started practice. Defense is definitely something she needs to get better at for her to play at the next level." Whalen has no problem with the new style and already sees it paying dividends. " I like it a lot. It has worked well for us. Im starting to figure out when to really pressure the ball and go for steals and when to stay back and save some energy."
Defensive pressure leads to missed shots and turnovers which lead to rebounds and fast breaks which dovetails nicely with Lindsay Whalens favorite part of the game," I love getting the outlet and pushing it up the floor as hard as we can. There are going to be a lot of fast breaks and thats what most fans come to see. We like to have fun in transition, it loosens our team up and we play better when we are loose." And nothing pleases Pam Borton more than a defensive stop, resulting in Lindsay running the break, "She just makes everything look so easy out there. She can create and get a basket when you need one. When Lindsay Whalens on the floor, baskets become a lot easier to get."
After years of the best high school players in the state opting to continue their careers elsewhere, Whalen, who only rated all-state honorable mention (albeit four times) while playing for Hutchinson, appreciates the role she and her teammates have played in the Gophers recent recruiting success, " That is definitely something that the players who have stayed in Minnesota take a lot of pride in. For ten years all you heard about was the Millers leaving, Susan King leaving and people assumed that no one stayed here. I take a lot of pride that I stayed in Minnesota and helped turn that around."
As a two-time team M.V.P. and the fastest Gopher to reach the 1,000 point plateau Lindsay Whalens place in Gophers history is already secured. She has an excellent opportunity to become the Gophers all-time leading scorer but does not concern herself with her individual statistics. With five returning starters from last seasons 22-win team and a deep bench, she sees this years team presented with an opportunity to take the program to unprecedented heights, "This team has a lot of weapons. Opponents will probably be focusing on stopping me but all of our players can put up numbers." And as far as the Gophers hard-won reputation preceding them, Lindsay wouldnt have it any other way, "You can only sneak up on people for so long. Its been fun watching ranked teams on television and knowing we can compete with them. This year we are more confident and know we are going to take care of business."