Gophers' Lindsay Whalen 'eternally grateful' to be named to Naismith Hall of Fame

Lindsay Whalen was quarantined in her Twin Cities home with COVID-19 last Monday when she got a call that would change her life forever.

On her first time on the ballot, Whalen was selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The former Hutchinson, University of Minnesota, Minnesota Lynx and Olympic star will have a place later this fall with the best to ever play the game. She called her husband, her parents, her coaching staff and others to share the news. She had to wait to talk to her dad, he was busy playing pickle ball.

"Obviously I’m eternally grateful to my parents, first and foremost. To Ben, to all my coaches who saw a lot in me. To everybody for everything. It’s a great honor, it was a really fun weekend and it’s something that I was not expecting at any point in my career," Whalen said Wednesday at Athletes Village.

She was in the final day of isolation and recovering at the time, and was able to travel to New Orleans for the NCAA Final Four last weekend. That’s where it became official she was heading to the Hall of Fame.

Whalen also got a not-so-fun call that same day, from junior guard Sara Scalia, who led the Gophers in scoring this past season. Scalia, after a 15-18 season in Whalen’s fourth year as head coach, was entering the NCAA transfer portal. She became the sixth player to leave the program this year. It started in-season, with Jasmine Powell. 

Before Scalia, Kadi Sissoko left the program. Alexia Smith became the seventh player to transfer late last week. It’s the new trend in college athletics, with student-athletes getting a one-time transfer without having to sit out a season. There are currently nearly 1,000 players in the transfer portal for women’s basketball.

"I think there’s a lot of different reasons. It’s a positive thing for student athletes. If they want to try something new, if they feel that another place is going to be better for them, then obviously we support them," Whalen said. "We’re not happy with the amount of players that have left, but we’re navigating it like so many other schools are right now."

Whalen was asked if she’s worried the recent wave of transfers could have a negative public perception on her program. In four seasons with the Gophers, Whalen has a 60-57 record. Minnesota finished this past season 7-11 in Big Ten play, and the program hasn’t gotten to an NCAA Tournament under Whalen.

"It’s not just a Minnesota thing, it’s not. We’re going to self-evaluate, first and foremost me, on how I can be better. There’s a lot of different reasons," Whalen said.

Stuck in New Orleans Sunday night with travel issues, Whalen watched on TV as South Carolina beat UConn at Target Center to win the NCAA Women’s Final Four. It’s her hope and her goal to be on that same sideline with the Gophers one day. She led the Gophers to the Final Four as a star guard in 2003, the program’s lone appearance there.

"I believe in what we’re doing. That has not changed, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that we’re back to where I know this program can be," Whalen said. "I’ve been there as a player, lot different as a coach. That has not changed. That’s what I want, that’s why I took this job. That goal has not changed, I’m as determined as ever."

She made girls basketball cool in Hutchinson, and filled Williams Arena when the men’s program was struggling. She won four WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx, and has Olympic gold. She said she hopes she’s inspired young girls to play and grow the game.

She was also asked what she thinks makes her a Hall-of-Famer. She rarely boasts about her achievements, and gave a long pause before answering.

"I’d like to think that I’ve had success on the floor. I think I’ve persevered and I’ve always tried to, as much as I can, learning from my parents, treat people in a really good way. Treat people how I want to be treated," Whalen said.

One positive going into the 2022-23 season? Whalen has a top-10 recruiting class with four freshmen, all locals, coming in. The seven players they have available will do three weeks of workouts.