To say Rachel Banham had a breakout year as rookie for the Gophers this season would be an understatement. The freshman from Lakeville, Minn., took her role as Minnesota's starting point guard this season and ran with it... literally.
It did not take her long to race to the team lead in numerous categories and it seemed like in the snap of a finger she was placing her name among the top players in the conference, being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week five times before eventually being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Not only that, but both league head coaches and media voted her to the All-Big Ten Second Team and the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
But, what is most impressive about her rookie resume is the fact that she put up numbers that top almost every other freshman in the BCS.
Among the six power conferences, the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, Banham ranks first in total points (518), field goals (196), three-point field goal percentage (.429) and is tied for the most points per game (16.2) with Washington's Jazmine Davis, while she also ranks second in free throw percentage (.813) and fourth in minutes per game (34.2).
The Minnesota native beat out the likes of UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Duke's Elizabeth Williams, who came into the season as the No. 1 and No. 2 recruits in the country, respectively. In fact, Banham's scoring numbers topped all 18 recruits' which ranked ahead of her in the 2011 ESPN HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings.
In addition, Banham ranks in the top-15 among BCS freshmen in field goal percentage (.414), three-point field goals (48), rebounds (178), rebounds per game (5.6), assists (83) and steals (50).
Only the second Gopher to be named the Big Ten Conference Women's Basketball Freshman of the Year, Minnesota's Rachel Banham is happy that she was able to achieve her goal while playing in her home state and in front of her family and friends.
In recent years, it seems more of a rarity than the norm for elite-level prep stars to loyally represent the state in which they grew up, whether to experience new surroundings or just to get a little bit more freedom, but for Banham, the choice seemed to be an easy one.
"I think it was an easy decision because I knew that I always wanted to play at Minnesota. Even though I had a lot of options, it didn't really matter to me because I knew from a younger age that this was where I wanted to be. That's why I verbally committed decently early. It is also nice because I am only about 20 minutes from home, and I really like that."
A native of Lakeville, Minn., Banham committed to the Gophers early in her junior year at Lakeville North High School, where she led the Panthers to the Class AAAA State Championship in 2010 and ended her career with numerous prestigious accolades, including the coveted 2011 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year Award and was also named 2011 Minnesota Miss Basketball.
When she started her rookie season at Minnesota, Banham had a personal goal clearly in her mind, and wasn't afraid to let that goal be known, and that was to be the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year. And the hometown hero, with the support of her family, friends and the amazing fanbase that has followed her career for years, did just that.
GopherSports.com recently sat down with junior forward Katie Loberg to learn a little bit more about why she came to the U, what she would like to do after graduation and how she got involved in horseback riding.
Why did you choose to come to Minnesota? "I chose to come to Minnesota because, well it's kind of a long story, but I basically promised my grandpa that I would come here. We've always been Gopher fans and before he passed away I promised him I'd come here."
Tell us about your grandmother... "My grandma comes to all of the games, including road trips. She really likes to travel with my mom and dad to come see me play."
What would you like to do after graduation? "When I graduate, I'm not really sure exactly what I want to do, but I really like sports and I like news, so, you know, anything in front of the camera would be really interesting to explore. Sideline reporter for the NBA?...for the WNBA?...possibly."
How did you get involved with horseback riding? "I got into horseback riding, because ever since I was a little girl I have always loved horses and I was lucky enough to be able to move to a farm with my family and they bought me my first pony when I was about four or five."
What is your nickname? "My nickname is Loberg or Lo. I'm the only one on the team that gets called by my last name. It's kind of interesting."
Lynnette Sjoquist and Deborah Diamond, both members of the University of Minnesota women's basketball staff, will be honored in conjunction with the 26th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day as some of Minnesota's most inspiring and influential athletic leaders at an award ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
National Girls and Women in Sports Day is a nation-wide celebration recognizing the accomplishments of individuals in the promotion and advancement of girls' and women's sports.
Sjoquist, who has been a radio analyst for the Gophers since 2001, will be receiving the Girls' and Women's Sports in the Media Award, while Diamond, who recently joined the women's basketball staff as the team's office director, is set to receive one of 13 Breaking Barriers Awards for her 11 years of service in the Minnesota Sports Marketing office.
Twenty-one individuals will be receiving awards in five separate categories at the 2012 ceremony. Award recipients are nominated by schools, community organizations, recreation centers, and amateur and professional sports organizations.
I have been through my share of airports, having traveled around the country for work as well as for athletics back in my younger days. Just about a year ago, a team that I was working with was scheduled to play in a tournament at UCLA, which meant I was going to get to fly into LAX - a celebrity-gossip lover's dream. All I could think about was which celebrity I was going to see walking around the airport getting followed by the paparazzi? And, which famous heartthrob was I going to take a picture with while we were waiting at baggage claim?
Well, to my dismay, I did not see one celebrity the entire trip. Not one. Zero. My dreams had been dashed.
Looking back at my track record of celebrity sightings, the only encounters I've ever really had have been with athletes. Minnesota athletes at that. I remember meeting Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, then all of the Minnesota Twins, in Ft. Meyers, Fla., during our spring break softball trip as a junior in college. The guys let my teammates and I shag balls with them during batting practice and it is one of the greatest memories I have of my playing days.
It wasn't at the airport... but you get my drift.
Last week, the Minnesota women's basketball team was able to have one of those types of moments at the Minneapolis Airport, when they spotted Ricky Rubio hanging out near our baggage claim.
One of the most talked about athletes in the state of Minnesota at this very moment, Rubio surprisingly went unnoticed by passersby...until assistant coach Kelly Roysland recognized one of the Minnesota Timberwolves' most popular players.
By the time the team heard wind of the news of Rubio's presence, it became apparent to the rest of the crowd that the young man wearing the winter hat and eating Skittles was not your average Joe.
Members of the team politely asked Rubio if they would be able to get a photo with him, and he generously obliged. He sat for photo after photo, smiling and even sharing his candy. More people joined in, finally realizing that this young man was someone special. But, Rubio continued to sit and smile for the cameras.
The thing about his simple gesture was that he gave the Gophers, both players and staff alike, memories that many will remember for a lifetime.
Though my dreams were dashed at LAX just a short year ago, members of the Minnesota women's basketball team unexpectedly may have lived out theirs. It's not every day that you run into one of the most electrifying athletes in the NBA and have photos to prove it!
Though I don't have photo evidence, I also had another basketball encounter at Chicago O'Hare back in high school. I knew right away when I saw this man that he had to be a basketball player. He literally looked like he was walking on stilts. Even if he wanted to be incognito like Rubio had almost successfully been, it would have been no easy task. So, who was this man that towered over his entourage, you ask? None other than... Manute Bol.
I guess it's right what they say, the best things happen when you least expect them.
GopherSports.com recently sat down with sophomore forward Kionna Kellogg to learn a little bit more about why she came to the U, her favorite part about living in Minneapolis and her nail polish collection.
Why did you come to the U of M from Iowa? "I really like the cities and the idea of being in a bigger place. I wanted my parents to still be able to watch me play, but I needed to get away from them a little bit. The drive from Ames to Minneapolis is about three and a half hours."
What is your major here at the U? "My major is communications, and I've switched a couple of times, so hopefully this one will stick."
What are your post-graduation plans? "I don't know what I want to do when I graduate, but I'm thinking that I want to stay around the cities. I just like the cities."
What is your favorite part about living in Minneapolis? "My favorite part about living in the cities is, first the view coming from I35. I love it. I get excited everytime that I come back. I also like Dinkytown and our living facilities, because we live with all of our teammates. So, its really cool to be able to walk down the hall and go hang out with whoever I want. We spend a lot of time together."
Name one quirky thing about you... "I'm obsessed with nail polish. I have somewhere around 82 bottles of nail polish. They're not painted right now, but they typically are. I paint my nails and a lot of the girls on the team's nails. I could be a manicurist."
GopherSports.com recently sat down with senior guard Kiara Buford to learn a little bit more about how she got into modeling and what she thought the highlight of her summer was.
What is your major here at the U? "My major is communications studies."
How did you first get into modeling? "When I first got into modeling I was actually at a Gopher game watching as a recruit. I was probably around the middle of the court and halfway through a lady taps me on the shoulder. So, I turned around and she's like, "Hi. Have you ever modeled before?" And I was like,"No, I've played basketball my whole life." And she was like, "You should come to my agency, which is Moore Creative, which is downtown." So I went and I met her, and she is a big Gopher fan and she is very involved in Gopher sports, so I see her quite a bit. Ever since then I have been doing modeling stuff for her."
Who would win at HORSE: You or your mom? "My mom played college basketball, but I would definitely beat her in HORSE. We played when I was in seventh or eighth grade and I think that is the first official time that I beat her. She claims it was when I was in ninth grade."
What was the highlight of your summer? "The highlight of my summer was going to my family reunion. I don't get to see my family much, and I actually got to see my extended family, which I never get to see. I haven't seen them in years. So, I saw a lot of my cousins and my grandpa. I figured out where I got my skinny calves from. I saw my grandpa facing the other way and I was like, "Man, his legs look just like mine." So, there you go, there's my chicken legs."
GopherSports.com recently sat down with junior guard Leah Cotton to learn a little bit more about why she chose the U, her major and the one thing that really grosses her out.
Why did you come to the U? "I came to Minnesota because I liked the team and I enjoyed the atmosphere when I got up here. I loved their crowd support and it seemed like everything was a fit for me."
What is your favorite part about Minnesota? "My favorite part about Minnesota is how close it is to downtown and how close it is to any other place you want to get to, but it's still a college-feel campus."
What is your major? "My major is family social science. Right now, I want to be a child counselor after I graduate and do something with that. If not, who knows. We'll see where it takes me."
What grosses you out? "I don't like feet. I hate when people take off their sock and stick their toes in the air like it is cool. Like Micaëlla Riché, she does that all of the time. I personally don't wear flip-flops. I don't wear sandals. I like my feet and my toes covered. Something's nasty about phalanges. I just don't like toes."
In the newest episode of "Courtside with Corbu" for the week of Dec. 20, 2011, Gopher Radio Network voice Corbu Stathes goes inside the mind of Gopher point guard Rachel Banham, seeing how the freshman from Lakeville handles the point guard position.
There are special guest appearances by sophomore Sari Noga and team manager Alex Antonen, while Stathes takes a turn at playing a little defense.
GopherSports.com recently sat down with senior guard Nicole Mastey to learn a little bit more about how she spent her summer, what it's like to play basketball with her twin sister and her plans following graduation.
What did you get to do last summer? "I went to Ireland in May and I got to spend three and a half weeks in Dublin and Belfast, so I got to see a lot of Northern Ireland. And then, got to see more of the tourist side down in Dublin. My favorite part would have been when we spent a night at Corrymeela, which is kind of a camp-like atmosphere. There were a lot of group bonding activities, like team activities, so we learned a lot about each other in the group and it was a very good experience."
What is it like to play basketball with your twin sister, Brianna? "I've always wanted to continue playing basketball with Brianna. She has always been my role model. I have always grown up watching her play, so now that I get to be in college and play with her, it's kind of a dream come true. We get to share this experience together and it's something that we'll never forget."
What do you hope to do once you graduate from the U? "I am actually working on getting an internship with a youth center called "The Garage" in Burnsville. They kind of already told me that I could potentially have a job position with them after, so I'm really hoping that will work out for me, because I have been volunteering there and I love the kids. They want someone there who can facilitate sports activities, so I'm thinking I might be the perfect one for that."