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Lindsay Whalen named Gophers next head coach, will keep playing for Minnesota Lynx

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen will be the next head coach of the Minnesota Gophers’ women’s basketball team while continuing her WNBA career. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)

Lindsay Whalen has developed into a Minnesota basketball legend of sorts over the past two decades — and deservingly so.

The Minnesota Lynx guard got her start at the University of Minnesota, where she was a three-time All-American, the school’s all-time leading scorer and even led the Gophers to their first Final Four appearance in 2004. She was drafted No. 4 overall that year, and has helped the Lynx to four WNBA Championships in her eight seasons with the team in Minneapolis.

So naturally, when Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle was looking for a new women’s basketball coach, he only had to look in his own back yard.

The school announced that Whalen will return to the school to become the head women’s basketball coach on Tuesday.

“I have so many special memories at the University of Minnesota. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have the opportunity to make more,” Whalen said in a statement. “Becoming the head coach here at the U and being a Gopher again is a dream come true. At every level, basketball has given me so much. I’ve learned from so many great players, coaches and mentors, and now I have a chance to share that knowledge and help shape the new generation of Gopher stars. I’m ready to get started.”

Whalen isn’t calling it quits on her playing career, though. The Minnesota native will continue playing for the Lynx as a part of her agreement with the Gophers. The WNBA season starts on May 18 and runs through early September.

Whalen — who is entering her 15th season in the WNBA — averaged eight points per game last season in the Lynx’s title run, shooting 45.1 percent from the field.  

“As I started this process with the University of Minnesota, it was important to me that I returned to the Lynx this season,” Whalen said in a statement through the Lynx. “I’m very excited about our upcoming season and I look forward to returning to a renovated Target Center and playing in front of our great fans.”

Whalen will replace Marlene Stollings at Minnesota, who left to become the head coach at Texas Tech earlier this week. The Gophers went 24-9 last season and reached the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

And while she doesn’t have any formal coaching experience, Coyle said he thinks she is more than qualified to keep the Gophers program moving in the right direction.

“People talk about the ‘it’ factor, and that is always difficult to define, but everyone who has ever spent time around Lindsay Whalen knows she has it,” Coyle said. “She has excelled at everything she has ever done in her life because she’s unflappable, determined and has a legendary work ethic. She’s played for some of the top coaches in the world, she’s competed at the highest levels the sport has to offer, and I know she will be a great head coach for our women’s basketball program.”

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