Her corner office is, frankly, huge.
Sofas and easy chairs. A big desk. One glass wall looks over the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team’s practice court, the other looks out over the Gophers football practice field. There is a huge bathroom with a shower.
“The first couple days it was overwhelming,” Lindsay Whalen said. “It was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m supposed to have this nice of stuff. Do I deserve this?’ ”
Former Lynx star, current Gophers coach, Whalen smiled. “State of the art, corner office, view. Now that I’ve settled in, I like it.”
Covering the wall behind her is a montage of pictures from Whalen’s time as a player at the U. Whalen being hugged by Janel McCarville after their 2004 regional championship victory over Duke. Whalen cutting down the nets.
The rest of the office is dominated by blue. Pictures of Whalen’s Lynx teams and teammates. Wheaties boxes celebrating the Lynx’s four WNBA titles. Mementos of her 15-year WNBA career.
Whalen hopes this all changes.
When Cheryl Reeve first came to the Lynx she decorated her office with mementos of her two WNBA title teams as an assistant in Detroit. Her request to the team: Make me redecorate.
Whalen has issued the same challenge. “That’s the goal,” she said, looking around the room. “Make sure this is eventually all maroon and gold. With different teams and, hopefully, Final Fours and championships. It will take a lot of work. But that’s the goal.”
Whalen, five months into her new job, has four of the top five scorers back from a team that went to the second round of last spring’s NCAA tournament. That includes guard Kenisha Bell, a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and Destiny Pitts, the conference Freshman of the Year. With the start of practice looming — Monday is Day 1 — Whalen spoke last week about the upcoming season.
Q What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?
A For me, just figuring out what system we want to run and what we want to do. How we’ll organize practices. As a player, you’re told what to do. To be the one coming up with what we need to work on? That’s where my assistant coaches have been so great. … Now it will be trying to motivate players to reach our goals.
Q Where has your learning curve been steepest?
A Hiring people. Right off the bat, hiring people. Recruiting? That’s about relationships, getting to know people. As a player, sometimes you can shut it all off. But as a coach you never can.
Q What differences will fans see when the season opens?
A We’re going to play mostly man-to-man defense. They played zone last year. Defense is a priority. That’s what got us to the Final Four. To take the next step, we have to play defense.
Q That will be a challenge.
A Absolutely. It’s not going to go perfectly, for sure. We’ll have our ups and downs. But so much of the skill work we’ve done so far has been on defense.
Q Did you like what the team did offensively last season?
A I liked the running. I liked a lot of their sets. We’re still going to run, but hopefully it will be off our defense. Honestly, I love a lot of the offensive stuff we ran with the Lynx. Cheryl is a great offensive mind. That’s what I know. I’m thinking of what we ran with the Lynx in 2013, 2014[when the Lynx used a high-post offense].
Q Ultimately, what do you want your teams to be known for?
A I feel I’ve always been a tough player. I want our teams not to give in, at any point in a game, ever. On the best teams I’ve been on, there has been a certain energy. Where the floor is almost on fire with how hard they’re going, how hard they’re playing, how hard they’re cutting. And swarming defense.
Q How will you replace Carlie Wagner’s scoring and leadership?
A One of them is Mercedes [Staples], the freshman. She can space the floor. Great shooter. I feel with Kenisha and Jasmine [Brunson], they’ll be our strengths. And Pitts. To me, she’s not Maya [Moore], but she has a great release. So we can use her [much like the Lynx use Moore]. The person we need to take the biggest jump is [post player] Taiye Bello.
Q You inherited a team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. What is the goal this year?
A I’d love to get back to the tournament. That’s our goal. We talked about it as our goal. They got to be part of the first weekend. Defensively, we’re going to have to take some steps, for sure, to finish in the top three or four in the Big Ten. For me, the goal right now is to start off the season with our system and feeling good. This team, the fact they were there last year — they got a taste of it. They’re going to be hungry to get back.
GOPHERS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL KEY DATES
Monday: Start of practice
Nov. 9: Season opener, vs. New Hampshire
Nov. 29: ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, vs. Syracuse
Dec. 28: Big Ten opener, vs. Wisconsin