This is only their second year, and they are just sophomores. But already Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen is about to ask a lot of guards Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia.
Wednesday was just the first official practice of the 2020-21 season, and already Whalen said both of those players are ready.
You could just see it, Whalen said. The two were in perhaps the best shape of anyone on the team. During an offseason of reasonable doubt as to whether the season would be played at all, both Powell and Scalia worked out and worked hard.
“It shows how much they love the game, how they want to make a mark here,” Whalen said. “They want to have legendary careers here, they want to leave a legacy. They want that.”
Both were named to all-Big Ten freshman teams last season. Powell, from Detroit, averaged 12.1 points and 3.1 assists as the team’s quick point guard. Scalia, from Stillwater, averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 rebounds and made 59 of 160 three-pointers, 36.9%.
This Gophers team will have some expectations, both internally and externally. They will have Kadi Sissoko eligible after sitting out a season after transferring from Syracuse. Whalen is convinced Sissoko will have a major impact on not just the team, but the conference as well. Whalen’s freshman class includes Ohio five-star guard Alexia Smith. Senior Gadiva Hubbard also returns.
But in many ways Whalen’s two sophomore guards could be her two most important players. With a year of experience, they will help the freshman class acclimate. And it doesn’t end there. This team has six new faces. Powell and Scalia — as guards, Whalen’s coaches on the floor — are vital.
They apparently agree.
“You don’t come in in the kind of condition they’re in if you don’t feel that way,” Whalen said. “If you don’t think about some big-picture goals. So we’ll continue to lean on them.”
And it’s not all on the court. Last season was marred by the suspension of Destiny Pitts, who ultimately transferred out of the program. After practice Wednesday, Whalen talked about what she learned from that experience and the adversity that came with it.
“Everywhere I’ve been, before I’ve won, there has been adversity,” Whalen said.
Ultimately, she believes she and her team will be better for it, with the help of her sophomore class.
“I think, for me, it’s just bringing the team together,” Scalia said. “Making sure … we all have the same goal, are on the same path every day. Playing together.”
Said Powell: “It’s making sure we get the team together and play for each other. That’s the best thing for everybody.”
There are other goals. Scalia spent the summer working on getting stronger to be able to finish better at the rim and on her midrange shot.
“And then quickness, on-the-ball defending,” she said.
Powell? It started with her conditioning. “Because I want to be able to impact the game on both ends of the floor whenever my team needs me,” she said. “I’ve been working on my pullup [jumpers] and being able to go left. Last year I went right a lot. I want to go left as well.”
Ultimately, though, Powell wants her team to move straight ahead.
“You’re proud as a coach,” Whalen said of Scalia and Powell. “You’re happy they’re on your team.”