After providing ‘spark’ for WNBA team, Banham signs with a team in Australia for the offseason

Former U women’s basketball player Rachel Banham is in her second season with the Connecticut Sun.

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham carries the ball at Williams Arena on Monday, Feb. 15. Banham recently signed to play with the Bendigo Spirit in Australia as a part of the WNBL.

Kathryn Chlystek, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham carries the ball at Williams Arena on Monday, Feb. 15. Banham recently signed to play with the Bendigo Spirit in Australia as a part of the WNBL.

Jack Warrick

Former Gophers basketball player Rachel Banham had her rookie season with the Connecticut Sun cut short in 2016 with a knee injury.

Now, she is almost fully recovered and back in action on the court for her WNBA team. She also signed a contract to play with the Bendigo Spirit of the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia.

“She’s going to be a centerpiece of what we do off the bench, and [she] provides us that person that can come in and really spark you off the bench,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller.

The road to recovery

Banham has a history of knee problems, undergoing two surgeries on one knee, and one surgery on the other earlier in her career before her latest surgery in 2016.

After getting drafted by the Connecticut Sun in 2016, Banham played in 15 games before needing microfracture surgery on her knee.

Now, she has rehabbed her knee up to near 100 percent health and she can take the court again. Banham has played in every one of the 16 Connecticut Sun games this year.

As Banham comes off the injury, Miller said she will contribute more and more to the Sun.

“There’s a reason we drafted her [fourth overall in the WNBA draft]. We believe in her, and I think she is only going to continue to get better and better,” Miller said.

Playing down under

Banham recently signed with the Bendigo Spirit of the WNBL, a professional women’s basketball league in Australia. Banham will play for the team during the Sun’s offseason.

The eight-team league allows two roster spots to foreign players with the remaining players being from Australia and New Zealand.

Banham will start playing in Australia, with the Bendigo Spirit, as soon as the WNBA season ends in September.

“The obvious thing is the scoring, but much more than that is her improvement in her defense, tempo control… and for her it’s about leading veteran players,” said Simon Pritchard, head coach of Bendigo. “She’s really interested in learning the international game, and we can teach her the international game.”

Banham said she’s excited to head to the WNBL after her time with the Sun was over this year.

“There’s a good handful of people that are in the WNBA that go over there to play and have really big years, and it’s a very competitive league, and it’s also just a really cool place to play,” Banham said.

Hot as the Sun

One of Banham’s 16 games was in a win against the Minnesota Lynx on June 17 when she put up 11 points on her hometown team.

The perennial WNBA super power, the Lynx, had been undefeated up until the Sun beat them, and Banham as well as Miller said it was a confidence booster.

“It felt really good to win in an environment as tough as Minnesota, and there’s a reason they only have one loss on the season,” Miller said. “More than anything, it was a shot of confidence.”

The Sun is currently 9-7. After losing four consecutive games in the beginning of the season, the team has won eight of its last ten games.

“We have a big circle around the 2018-19 season, as we are building this team,” Miller said. “We were the youngest in the league last year, and we are the second youngest roster in the league this year.”

Missing the college days

Banham broke countless records while at Minnesota, including the Big Ten conference scoring record with 3,093 points, and the most points per game in a season for Minnesota with 28.6.

She also tied the NCAA record for most points in a game with 60 in her senior year at Minnesota.

“I definitely miss playing in Minnesota,” Banham said. “It was the best five years of my life, and it was a really good experience, and I love all the people there.”