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The team building began before everyone involved was officially a part of the team.

Credit Katie Borowicz, Rose Micheaux, Maggie Czinano.

You might know them as the three who stayed, the members of the 2021-22 Gophers women's basketball team who remained last spring after graduations and a number of transfers left coach Lindsay Whalen's roster at three.

Whalen and her staff began to rebuild the roster, the foundation being a top-10 recruiting class of Minnesotans Mara Braun, Nia Holloway, Amaya Battle and Mallory Heyer.

Borowicz, Micheaux, Czinano? They started rebuilding the team.

Every time they heard a new player had committed, they'd call and welcome them. Then they started going to those players' high school games. Three present Gophers cheering for four who were on their way. Pretty easy, considering the incoming freshmen were all from the metro area — Braun from Wayzata, Holloway from Eden Prairie, Battle from Hopkins, Heyer from Chaska.

"We built a bond way before we got on the court together,'' Micheaux said.

Said Borowicz: "We knew they'd be special. Watching them play you could see it. High IQ. Great players.''

After one of their first training camp practices last week, those four freshmen sat together. Braun talked about how cool it was to have that support. "It was, we're still in high school, but we're going to be a part of a team,'' she said. "They're going to be there for us right away.''

Heyer talked about how quickly that bond formed, how it helped the team hit the court running during summer workouts and into the fall. Holloway, whose Gophers debut will have to wait as she recovers from knee surgery, talked about the excitement they all felt about the opportunity for what she called a fresh start for the program.

Battle, dealing with allergy-induced laryngitis, mainly nodded in agreement as her teammates talked. But she did manage to make one statement when asked about their goal for the upcoming season:

"The tournament,'' she said, referring to the NCAA.

Short on experience

It will not be easy for the Gophers to reach the NCAA field for the first time in Whalen's tenure.

Watching practice last week at the start of camp, one could see the talent level. Braun, Heyer and Battle can play. Borowicz, who missed last year following surgery, is back at the point. Micheaux, who played in the post for 30 games last season as a freshman, is a year older. Czinano, who dealt with a number of health- and injury-related setbacks as a freshman, had a wonderful summer and looks good this fall.

A number of transfers have added pieces, including in the paint.

But the fact remains that the Gophers could have a starting lineup that includes four freshmen and a sophomore. They will take the Williams Arena floor later this month — they have an exhibition game Oct. 30 — with a roster that includes seven freshmen and three sophomores. No matter the talent, the learning curve in Big Ten basketball is steep. Throw in the fact that the Gophers' offense will look significantly different than last year's three-point-happy attack, and speed bumps would seem to be looming.

But the Gophers believe they have something that might have been lacking last year: chemistry. A bond. Some weeks ago, Borowicz, comparing last year's team to this year's, talked about a team that was finally willing to take coaching, one that was more united.

"Our goal was to take the good stuff out of last year and build on that,'' Micheaux said. "And let the rest go.''

"I would agree with that,'' Borowicz said. "We're looking for our teammates because we know they can score. Whereas, last year, it was more, 'I'm looking for myself because I can score.' "

By the time the incoming class hit campus, the bond was already forming. Throughout the summer they'd meet at the gym and play three-on-three games. They practically lived at the practice facility.

Braun, Heyer, Holloway and Battle reside together in a four-bedroom apartment; there is no better way to get to know someone than that.

"We've come so far,'' Holloway said. "We all got here. We have a lot of transfers, a lot of freshmen. We've done a good job of getting to know each other. ''

Long on chemistry

Whalen knew there would be a lot of change on her team, if only because of the number of graduations after last season. No, she did not anticipate the number of transfers, which included starters Jasmine Powell, Sara Scalia and Kadi Sissoko. Whalen did not expect to return only one player — Micheaux — who started a game in 2021-22.

Whalen has nothing but good things to say about the team she coached last year, about the players who left, including via the transfer portal. "I wish them the best,'' Whalen said. "But it did give us a chance to bring in different personalities, different people.''

Whalen has watched this team come together. And while she and her staff have worked hard on building chemistry, she knows what she's seeing has been accomplished by the players themselves.

"I think they understand they have something special in front of them,'' Whalen said. "From the three who said they were going to stay, and the four coming in who said they were going to stay in Minnesota. We've brought in some other pieces. That group alone understands they have something. They're really talented and they want to hold onto this thing. To build it and do it here.''

There is talent. There is also youth. But there is also confidence.

"We'll be on the radar this year,'' Micheaux said. "One, we have too much talent. Two, our chemistry, our bond, we have that. And we work hard. We will be on the radar.''

Said Braun: "It's a cool opportunity for us. We're all ready.''