Gopher alums adjust to pro careers

Minnesota alums Rachel Banham and Amanda Zahui B. are learning to become professionals in their first and second WNBA seasons.

Carissa Polo

Rachel Banham had her season ended by an injury in 2014 after playing just 10 games. After 15 games with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, the team announced Friday that Banham has again encountered a season-ending injury.

If Banham’s journey this time around is anything like the first, though, she could have little trouble getting her game back.

“She just showed what you can do if you persevere through a tough time,” said Gophers women’s basketball head coach Marlene Stollings, Banham’s former coach. “It’s just absolutely incredible.” 

Banham’s professional journey started when she was drafted by the Connecticut Sun fourth overall in April.

“It was really cool. I was super excited,” Banham said. “I remember feeling super emotional. I wanted to cry a little bit, but I kept it together.”

Banham began her career with the Sun one month after being drafted and has been learning ever since. 

She scored 13 points in her WNBA debut and averaged 3.7 points per game for the Sun through 15 games. 

Banham was named Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year in June to cap off her historic college career. She said receiving the award was one of the happiest moments in her life. 

The award was no surprise to Stollings, who said Banham did her part to earn a special place in the conference and the game as a whole.

“If you look at all the sports in the Big Ten, there are some incredible gymnasts who move on to be Olympians. Volleyball always goes to the Final Four,” Stollings said. “So when you realize that they decided to choose Rachel, I think that speaks volumes as to what she did on a national scale — not just for the U but for women’s basketball. She brought a lot of attention back to the game,” Stollings said.

Banham’s professional numbers are small compared to the ones she posted during her career at Minnesota, and now she’ll face a 4-to-6 month journey of surgery and rehabilitation, according to the Sun.

However, Banham said she wasn’t looking to start as a standout player and sees the process as an incremental one.

“I just want to improve,” she said before her injury. “Increasing what I can do is a factor in the team I’m on now and whatever team I’ll be on in the future.  I just want to continue to be better in the game.”

Former Minnesota center and 2015 second overall draft pick Amanda Zahui B. is also adjusting to professional life after leaving college as a sophomore. 

Zahui B. debuted with the Tulsa Shock and is a member of the New York Liberty this season. Zahui B. is averaging 8.5 minutes and 4.1 points per game with the Liberty. 

Zahui B. returned to Minnesota to make her first career start with the team June 29 against the Lynx. She scored a career-high 17 points.

“I think they have an innate desire to be successful and the drive to be the best,” Stollings said of her former players. “And usually with competitors at the collegiate level, that’s the quality that separates them from the other players.”