Whalen back at home with the Lynx

Former Gopher and three-time WNBA all-star point guard Lindsay Whalen shoots free throws against the San Antonio Silver Stars at the Target Center on Thursday.  The Minnesota Lynx acquired Whalen in January in a trade with the Connecticut Sun.

Image by Joe Michaud-Scorza

Former Gopher and three-time WNBA all-star point guard Lindsay Whalen shoots free throws against the San Antonio Silver Stars at the Target Center on Thursday. The Minnesota Lynx acquired Whalen in January in a trade with the Connecticut Sun.

by Derek Wetmore

Former Gophers womenâÄôs basketball star Lindsay Whalen has brought her talents back to Minnesota, and those talents landed her in the 2010 WNBA All-Star Game. Whalen, who gained a spot on the WNBA All-Star Team as an injury replacement last Saturday, came to the Minnesota Lynx this winter in a blockbuster trade that brought MinnesotaâÄôs most iconic womenâÄôs basketball player back home after six years in Connecticut. The arrival of Whalen, who will grand marshal MinneapolisâÄô Aquatennial Torchlight Parade next Wednesday, has been a boon to the LynxâÄôs marketing, which in previous seasons made a major event of WhalenâÄôs annual game against Minnesota. The home opener this season drew 9,985 fans, the highest attendance mark since 2003, and average attendance has improved by more than 300 fans per game despite the teamâÄôs early struggles. Whalen was also recently named to the pool of 22 players competing for 11 roster spots on Team USA. âÄúItâÄôs just been great to be a part of [the world team tryouts], and IâÄôm thankful I got the opportunity,âÄù Whalen said. âÄúIâÄôve worked hard to get to this point, and I know I have the talent and ability.âÄù Whalen displayed that ability in a losing effort on the part of the all-stars. The world team dominated SaturdayâÄôs competition, winning 88-72, but Whalen had eight points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. âÄúItâÄôs a cool honor, and itâÄôs really fun. I was just excited,âÄù Whalen said of playing in her third all-star game. âÄúYou get to play in the game and compete, and I thought that was good.âÄù The beginning Whalen was part of the 2004 Gophers team that made a memorable run to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed. âÄúWhen you have a season like [we had in 2004], youâÄôre always going to have a special bond between everybody,âÄù Gophers womenâÄôs basketball coach Pam Borton said. âÄúWe had a special team.âÄù The three-time All-American was drafted No. 4 overall by the Connecticut Sun, which at the time made her the highest-selected player to come out of the Big Ten, though that was outdone by another former Gophers player the next year when Janel McCarville was taken No. 1 overall. Whalen went two spots ahead of Minnesota, who held the sixth and seventh picks. It was a disappointment for the Lynx, who had traded several key players in an effort to land the hometown hero. At the time, it was fuel to the debate for a regionalized draft, a concept that proponents say would increase the popularity of the WNBA by keeping familiar names and stars like Whalen in their hometown market. The NBA used this idea of territorial picks for 20 years , in which they allowed a team the choice to forfeit its first-round selection in order to draft the best college player from the area. Some believe this type of draft is what the WNBA desperately needs to boost popularity. Opponents of that format point to a strong college program like the University of Connecticut and opine that it would be unfair for the Sun to have first pick of elite talent for the region. Borton said she doesnâÄôt think the league will see the draft change any time soon. âÄúThe NBA doesnâÄôt [regionalize the draft] so I donâÄôt think the women are leaning that direction either,âÄù Borton said. âÄúThey just want to put a great basketball team out there no matter where theyâÄôre from.âÄù Blockbuster trade On January 12, the Lynx initiated one of the most significant trades in the leagueâÄôs 13-year history, sending the No. 1 overall draft pick and former University of Conneticut star Renee Montgomery to Connecticut for Whalen and the No. 2 pick. âÄúI think, for basketball, it was just great to bring her back.âÄù Borton said. âÄúI think it helped bring people to the games because sheâÄôs a lot of fun to watch; itâÄôs like watching a show. Everybody is glad to have her home.âÄù This swap was more about regional ties than basketball talent, as Montgomery played on a championship team for the Huskies, and Whalen for the Gophers. The idea behind the trade was that both teams would improve attendance and interest in their team by adding popular local talent. âÄú[The trade] meant a lot. It meant coming to a new opportunity, a new phase of my career,âÄù said Whalen, whose family still lives in her hometown of Hutchinson, Minn. âÄúIt meant coming home to the Twin Cities. I love it in Minnesota.âÄù WhalenâÄôs career isnâÄôt limited to her two stops in the WNBA, either; she has also played in the Euroleague as part of her multiple stops overseas, which also included a 2006 contract to play in Ekaterinburg, Russia. She also plays for USK Prague in the Czech Republic between WNBA seasons, which isnâÄôt uncommon for WNBA players. TheyâÄôre often offered the potential to play for more money, due to the absence of a salary cap. Whalen currently makes around $100,000 a year in the WNBA, just under the $105,000 league maximum.