Calhoun finally finds her pot of gold in taking Whalen’s spot

David McCoy

If you saw Minnesota women’s basketball guard April Calhoun, you’d swear she was as Irish as St. Patrick’s sister.

With red hair, fair skin and a last name like Calhoun, the fact she’s not Irish can be hard to believe at first, especially seeing her in a green jumpsuit.

And although she doesn’t sport the same four-leaf clover tattoo on her ankle as teammate Janel McCarville, Calhoun has reached gold at the end of a very long rainbow that now has her aiming to replace Lindsay Whalen in Minnesota’s lineup.

Chosen as Minnesota’s Ms. Basketball, metro player of the year and state player of the year by several publications upon graduating from Robbinsdale-Armstrong High School in New Hope, Minn., Calhoun was not heavily recruited by then-Minnesota coach Cheryl Littlejohn.

Minnesota had only one available scholarship and wanted to use it to recruit a post player – which turned out to be McCarville.

At the time Calhoun was looking to commit to a program, Minnesota was in the midst of what would become an 8-20 season on the heels of six other sub-.500 seasons.

And on top of the fact that she was not heavily recruited and not offered a scholarship, Calhoun said she did not want to be coached by Littlejohn.

“Right now, every kid wants to grow up and play for their home state,” Calhoun said. “But at the time, the program was bad. And even if I was offered a scholarship, I don’t know if I would have wanted to play for Littlejohn.”

Iowa offered Calhoun a two-year scholarship and – disappointed with the situation in Minnesota – she accepted its offer.

As Iowa’s starting point guard, Calhoun played in every game during her freshman season in 2001-02. Starting every game her sophomore year, she was sixth in the Big Ten in assists and scored in double digits six times.

But she wasn’t happy, she said.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said she wasn’t really sure why Calhoun felt the need to leave.

“There was no tension between her and her teammates and coaches, and she still has friends here that she keeps in contact with,” Bluder said. “We were disappointed and wish she would have stayed. But we don’t want to have unhappy people in the program.”

For reasons she said she did not wish to discuss, Calhoun decided to leave Iowa and look for another place to play.

“It just wasn’t the right fit for me,” she said.

But at the time, she did not have any idea where she wanted to play and said she didn’t even consider a revitalized Minnesota program an option.

An NCAA rule that forbade her from receiving a scholarship from another Big Ten school and the prospect of sitting out an entire year made the decision even more difficult.

Calhoun’s parents suggested Minnesota. And although playing close to home was part in her decision, Littlejohn’s departure and the program’s improvement were much bigger factors.

Although she could not play or travel with the team because of the rules, Calhoun was able to practice with her new teammates last year.

And when the Gophers made their way to the Final Four in New Orleans in April, Calhoun paid her own way to watch what was a bittersweet experience.

“It was difficult to have to sit out,” Calhoun said. “But it was still a dream come true to be a part of a team that went to the Final Four. Not many can say they’ve done that.”

Although transferring was a difficult experience for Calhoun, she said, it was the best decision she ever made – especially now that the 5-foot-8-inch guard is beginning to reap the benefits of such a trying first three years of college basketball.

With the departure of Whalen, Calhoun has been asked to step in and fill Whalen’s role, which Calhoun has done satisfactorally so far – she has recorded six steals in each of the team’s two exhibition games and scored a total of 25 points.

“April has filled Lindsay’s void nicely,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “But she knows she won’t have to score 20 points a game.”

And while the Gophers will surely miss Whalen, their new shooting guard is hoping to be their new lucky charm in a run at another Final Four.

McCarville honored

Big Ten preseason player of the year McCarville was again honored with preseason accolades Tuesday.

The senior center, who will nurse a broken bone in her left hand for a couple more weeks before joing the Gophers, was named an Associated Press preseason All-American and a candidate for the Naismith Award, honoring the national player of the year.

McCarville was the second-leading vote-getter on the All-America squad.