Courtside with Lindsay Whalen
An unfiltered Q&A with WNBA players — past and present.
Hello and welcome to Courtside.
Take a break from the game. Pull up a chair. Settle in. Have some water. And relax.
As often as I can, I’ll be bringing you honest, revealing and fun Q&As with some of the greatest players in WNBA history as well as rookies, veterans and All-Stars in the league today.
Now, let’s get to the conversation.
Brad Rempel/Gopher Athletics
Lindsay Whalen, 38, is a former WNBA point guard and current women’s basketball head coach at her alma mater, the University of Minnesota. She began her WNBA career with the Connecticut Sun, after being drafted fourth overall in the first round of the 2004 WNBA Draft. In January 2010, Whalen was traded to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for Renee Montgomery and the Lynx’s No. 1 pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft. During her time with the Lynx and head coach Cheryl Reeve, she won four WNBA titles (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017).
“Lindsay Whalen changed women’s basketball in Minnesota.”
— Minnesota Lynx head coach, Cheryl Reeve in 2019 on Whalen’s over impact
Whalen officially retired from basketball after the 2018 WNBA season and began her college basketball coaching career that fall. She is a four-time WNBA champion, five-time WNBA All Star (2006, 2011, 2013-2015), and currently ranks third overall in career assists. And though her playing days may be behind her, we can still (thankfully) watch endless Whalen highlights on YouTube:
As you get ready for your third season as the head coach of Minnesota, what are some key things you learned over the course of those first two seasons?
You know, I think it’s communication. Communication is huge. As you transition from a player to a coach, understanding that everybody needs something a little bit different coaching-wise. You know, I’m kind of trying to figure that out. And the only way to do that is to sit down and talk, get to know people. It’s hard because you’re pulled in a million different directions, especially right away. There are different things that come up on a day by day basis, like speaking engagements. But just understanding that your focus is the players.
This year going to be different because of COVID — what are some of the difficulties with that?
I mean, just the uncertainty. I know the NCAA released when we can start playing games in November. But just, every week right now we get tested for COVID and you just hope everybody comes back negative so you can keep going. Because if you don’t, then you’re looking at a situation where you have to shut things down. That takes its toll.
Being in the gym has been amazing for everyone’s mental health — mine included. Just being in there, having a goal, getting to it every day. But it’s just in the back of your head, like every decision you are making — whether you are a player or a coach — you gotta be aware of who you’re around and where they’ve been, and all those things are real challenges. It’s much harder as a college student than for other people at different stages of their lives.
What’s been the most challenging thing about being a college head coach that you didn’t expect?
I think just the amount of people and things, events, that take your attention. In September, the team is back on campus. In normal times, we’re recruiting. We’re going out to in-home visits. So you’re gone essentially 15 to 20 days out of that month. And then you’re also having practice here, and then on the weekends you’re having official visits with recruits coming. You have your players that you’re trying to make sure they’re good. So, it’s just those types of things. You try to be at like three places at once. For me, that’s probably been the hardest thing.
Carly Thibault, she’s an assistant coach of mine, and obviously her dad (Mike) has been in this his whole life. The first year, I said I’m always tired. And she said, yeah, you just have to get to a point that you can excel when you’re tired —I can’t remember exactly what she said. But the great ones power through. And you just learn to be effective when you’re tired and you learn to take care of yourself. Because the next day, a lot of people need your energy. So I think figuring out that balance right off the bat was a pretty big challenge.
What’s been the most rewarding?
You know, just yesterday one of our players came to pick up some of her game jerseys from a couple of years ago — Kenisha Bell. And just talking with her out in our lobby area, catching up with her, just seeing how she’s doing, having her say ‘I love you’ when she leaves. Just stuff like that. You see players grow and those relationships that you built, seeing them move on to their next thing.
I’ve known Kenisha for five or six years now, and we had one year together. We wish we’d had more. But just having that, and having her thank me and thank the staff for everything we did in that one year — so just that. Kind of looking back. It’s our job to hold [players] accountable and push them to make them better. And in those moments, it’s not always — ‘hey, coach, you’re the greatest.’ There are some tough times. But looking back, you know, we made each other better. So just still having that bond. That type of stuff is the most rewarding so far.
What are your overall thoughts about the Lynx’s 2020 season/playoff run?
I thought Cheryl (Reeve), obviously she was coach of the year. I thought she did a great job. Any time you come into a year and you exceed expectations — now internally, they probably had even higher expectations, that’s just how Cheryl goes — but from outside looking in and seeing what the team is looking like, and who’s going to be there, then having Syl (Fowles) go down seven games in and still being a top four seed and making it to the semifinals, taking Seattle down to the wire in game one, I think they really exceeded expectations. I think they did a great job. I think the organization just from start to finish was extremely professional, handled adversity well.
The Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm are set to face off in the 2020 WNBA Finals — what’s your take on the series?
Well, I think you obviously go to the matchup right away, and I don’t know if Seattle will put Howard (Natasha) or Stewie (Breanna Stewart) on A’ja Wilson, but that’s the matchup, you know. If A’ja plays like she played in game four (of the semifinals), then the Aces are a much different team.
I think with the pace that D-Rob (Danielle Robinson) has played with the past few games, pushing it for the Aces, trying to get them easy buckets, is what they need. Obviously, it’s going to be tough without Hamby (Dearica), she’s kind of an X-Factor that could really hold her own with Alysha Clark. McBride (Kayla) is going to have to play tremendous defense on Jewell Loyd. To me, Loyd is taking that next step toward — she’s already a star — to superstar, next level. Seattle is just a machine. It’s just going to be a big challenge to slow them down.
What’s something about you that people would be surprised to know or wouldn’t expect?
I’m really like a quiet homebody in real life. I’m more or less an introvert. My ideal night is watching a movie or a game on TV at home and just kind of hanging out at the house with my husband and my dogs. Just chill at the house.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Could be a song, movie, food, etc.?
Well, ice cream of course. And like a Below Deck or Reals Housewives of New Jersey type of show. Just getting into a series where you’re just lying on the couch for hours and just watching this show that you know is not really doing much for you other than you can turn your brain off.
What was your go-to hype song before a game?
Probably Six-foot-seven by Lil Wayne. I’m a big Lil Wayne fan.
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