Love and basketball

Gophers basketball stars Andre Hollins and Rachel Banham are the campus’s power couple.

Jack Satzinger

A few weeks ago, Richard Pitino walked into Williams Arena and saw his star junior guard, Andre Hollins, on the court with his girlfriend.

As she often does, she had a basketball in her hands. Her name is Rachel Banham, and she’s a star junior point guard on the women’s basketball team.

“I saw them out on the court, and I said, ‘Hey, this is not … “Love & Basketball.” We don’t have time for this,’” said Pitino, the Gophers’ head men’s basketball coach. “And they laughed.”

It wasn’t the first time Pitino had seen the couple together on the court. Hollins and Banham trained together for much of the summer in preparation for their respective Team USA tryouts.

They didn’t just train together, though. They competed against each other, regularly going head-to-head in games of “horse” on the Williams Arena floor.

“I think it’s really good for both of us,” Banham said. “We’re so competitive, and we go back and forth at each other all the time. We always want to be the best.”

That was evident spending time with the pair at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day a few weeks ago.

At the event, Hollins said Banham is better at finishing at the rim than he is. When she heard him say it, she fist-pumped and yelled “Yes!”

Hollins complimented Banham, but the two are usually stubborn when it comes to basketball arguments.

“We just argue about everything because we’re so competitive,” Hollins said. “I think that’s just how we are.”

Those arguments often center on men’s versus women’s basketball. Banham insists it’s the same game — there are two 10-foot-tall hoops and 10 players on the court.

Hollins disagrees to an extent, but he said it’s all in good fun.

“It’s [mostly] the same,” he said. “I just do that to get on her nerves.”

Banham said Hollins also gets on her about her game. In one of their summer shooting contests, she said, she got frustrated because she’d missed a few shots in a row and Hollins told her to focus and “stop whining.”

Banham said their quarrels can get testy at times, but the two don’t usually let them carry on too long.

Minnesota women’s head coach Pam Borton is impressed by the couple’s maturity in handling the arguments.

“They can push each other to be better,” she said. “That’s a really positive thing for them to do.”

Hollins and Banham said they think their relationship has helped them grow as players, particularly because they have similar goals.

“We both talk about being [All]-Big Ten … first team,” Banham said. “We both said we want to get Big Ten Player of the Year.”

Banham made the All-Big Ten first team last season, while Hollins received an honorable mention.

Banham said she thinks Hollins can accomplish his goals this season if he shoots more.

“I’m like, ‘You need to shoot the ball,’”she said. “He’s such a good shooter that I don’t know why he doesn’t shoot the ball more.”

Heating up

Banham and Hollins met the summer before their freshman year, but they didn’t interact much until last spring.

Borton said a lot of players on the women’s team are friends with players on the men’s team. For Banham and Hollins, those platonic friendships have grown into more.

The two started talking more than usual while the men’s team was in the NCAA tournament last March.

In a first-round tournament win over UCLA, Hollins led the Gophers with 28 points and nine rebounds.

Banham said she was impressed.

She watched the Gophers’ next game against Florida, and Hollins was hot from the field again. He went 8-for-13 from the floor for a game-high 25 points.

Minnesota lost to the Gators 78-64, but Hollins’ impact in the tournament didn’t go unnoticed by Banham.

Days later, the two were official.

“I hope I wasn’t a distraction [during the tournament],” she said. “I don’t think I was, since he played so well.”

Similarities attract

Banham’s teammates know her for her goofiness off the court.

“She’s always goofy and silly,” said senior forward Micaëlla Riché. “I think she’ll do that if she’s with coach, with us, with Andre, with the guy at the store. She’ll always make some kind of lame joke or weird face.”

A similar quality in Hollins drew the two together.

“I like how she’s like me,” Hollins said. “We’re both goofy. We play a lot … [and] we don’t really take life too seriously.”

Teammates said the couple makes a hilarious pair off the court.

“When they’re both together, I’m always laughing,” senior women’s guard Sari Noga said.

While the couple doesn’t have a lot of free time as student-athletes, they find a way to see each other nearly every day.

“You can tell that they really care about each other,” Borton said. “That’s the first thing that I notice.”