MINNEAPOLIS (AP)With Minnesota’s players gathered in front of her earlier this month, coach Lindsay Whalen conducted a grade-school-style experiment in building camaraderie.
Raise your hand, Whalen said, if you played last season with a teammate next to them.
”Nobody was able to raise their hand,” said Whalen, who’s begun her fifth year running the program she once starred for.
That’s because the Gophers only had three players return from the 2021-22 team that went 15-18 amid yet another round of growing pains. Jasmine Powell left midstream in January, Sara Scalia transferred to Indiana after the season and graduations and the departures of deep reserves led to a wholesale turnover of the roster.
Rose Micheaux is the only returner who saw significant playing time. Katie Borowicz and Maggie Czinano, the younger sister of Iowa star Monika Czinano, joined Micheaux in the loyal trio. All three players are only in their second year.
”For three or four weeks it was just us and them, just working every day, so we were able to work on a foundation that we could carry into the summer when we had the freshmen arrive with the transfers,” Whalen said on Wednesday at Big Ten media day at Target Center.
The good news for the Gophers is their incoming class might be the best in program history, ranked 10th in the nation by ESPN. The four freshmen signees are all from Minnesota, and the group is going to be counted on heavily from the start.
”It means so much skill-wise, mentally wise,” Micheaux said. ”We know we’re not going to have to be those leaders who have to be like, `Oh, you have to do this, this and this, because you’re doing this wrong.’ We know they’re going to be responsible enough to hold their own and know what’s right from wrong.”
Whalen and her staff have had the Gophers scrimmage in practice more than usual this month, trying to immerse the newbies in as many game situations as possible. Off the court, there have been plenty of team-building activities and casual get-togethers in the time since the newcomers arrived on campus.
The Gophers have also ramped up their time – ”more than ever before,” Whalen said – with the athletic department’s sports psychologist to help build chemistry and trust. The coaches take part in half of the sessions. The others are players-only.
”We’re problem solving. We’re discussing. We’re sharing,” Whalen said. ”We kind of just try to talk to one another as people.”
Maggie Czinano, a 6-foot guard, appeared in only nine games in mop-up time last season. She’s bound for a bigger role, which excites both her and her older sister patrolling the post at rival Iowa.
The teams only meet once this season, in Iowa on Dec. 10.
”I’m immediately calling switch on the screen,” Monika Czinano said. ”I’m immediately matching up on her, blocking her shot for sure.”
The natives of Watertown, Minnesota, about 35 miles west of Minneapolis, have relished their summer training together and opportunities to swap scouting reports on other Big Ten foes.
”It’s a lot of fun to be able to work out with a sibling, especially when they have the same intensity and the same drive that you do,” Monika Czinano said.
Rutgers hired Coquese Washington to replace the retired C. Vivian Stringer after her remarkable 27-year run in New Jersey.
Washington was the head coach at Penn State from 2007-19. She spent one season as associate head coach at Oklahoma and two more years in the same role at Notre Dame before returning to the Big Ten. She counting on that prior experience in the conference to flatten the learning curve with her new program.
And while she aims to meet the standards set by Stringer, Washington said the style of play on the court might not look the same.
”Coach Stringer was known for great defense and low-scoring games. I kind of like to score a few more points, so the pace may be a little bit different,” Washington said. ”But I think the thing that will remain constant and consistent is the pursuit of excellence, the pursuit of championships, and loving and caring and nurturing our players off the court in a way that’s authentic and truly a positive representation of Rutgers athletics and Rutgers University.”
Illinois also has a new head coach as Shauna Green takes over the program after a six-year run at Dayton that included five Atlantic 10 titles and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Green realizes the steep climb at a school that has finished higher than ninth place in the conference just once in the past 15 seasons and hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 2003. But she said her approach with her players won’t change.
”Are we getting better possession by possession, day by day, drill to drill? Are we getting 1% better?” Green said. ”That was the same way last year when I had a veteran team knowing we were going to compete for a championship, or this year when we’re trying to rebuild a program.”
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