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Whalen to lead Gopher women's hoops, still play for Lynx

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Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen acknowledges the crowd.
Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen acknowledges the crowd in the final seconds of the second half of Game 5 of the WNBA Finals against the Los Angeles Sparks, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 in Minneapolis.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP 2017

Lindsay Whalen, who made her fame as a University of Minnesota basketball star and then as a WNBA champion, will take over coaching women's basketball at the U, university officials said Thursday.

Whalen, a Hutchinson, Minn., native, will take over the job but will remain a player in the WNBA, where she's won multiple championships as a guard with the Minnesota Lynx.

She replaces Marlene Stollings, who recently stepped down to take over the women's basketball team at Texas Tech University.

"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," Whalen said in a statement released by the U's athletics department. "I'm ready to get started."

Athletics director Mark Coyle described Whalen, 35, as someone with "the 'it' factor. She has excelled at everything she has ever done in her life because she's unflappable, determined and has a legendary work ethic. I know she will be a great head coach for our women's basketball program."

Former Gophers coach Pam Borton echoed those remarks, calling Whalen "the ultimate leader."

"And when you look at the big picture, she's the best thing that could happen for the University of Minnesota right now, as far as its brand, the ambassador, with some of the things that's happened over the last couple of years, you know I think she just gives the whole state of Minnesota and the whole university in general a shot in the arm," Borton said.

Jon Krawczynski, a reporter with The Athletic, says to take on a Big Ten coaching job while playing at the professional level is daunting.

Lindsay Whalen goes to the basket during a gold medal basketball match.
USA's guard Lindsay Whalen goes to the basket during a Women's Gold medal basketball match between USA and Spain at the Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Andrej Isakovic | AFP | Getty Images 2016

  "She's not going to be able to completely dive in and sink her teeth into this new enterprise that she's getting into like she would if she were not playing," Krawczynski said. "And if anyone can handle that, if anyone can do both and has the smarts and the competitiveness and the wherewithal to do it, it's absolutely Lindsay Whalen. But this will be a challenge for her, she's going to have a full plate."

But he's also seen her transform the Gopher program before, when she was a player. 

When she first came to the U of M, the team didn't draw enough fans, so they played in a smaller venue next to Williams arena, he said.

"When she got to the U and they started winning games, and she's playing with this swashbuckling style, it immediately captivated attention and brought the kinds of crowds to that program that had not been there before," Krawczynski said. "They had to move to Williams Arena just to accommodate Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville."

Contract terms weren't disclosed. According to the university, her deal to become head coach allows her to continue to play for the Minnesota Lynx. Whalen announced in February that she was retiring from international competition.

Her jersey, No. 13, hangs in the rafters of Williams Arena, the university's basketball venue. She was the first three-time All-American in program history, a three-time All-Big Ten selection and a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. Whalen led the Gophers to their only Final Four in program history in 2004, where they lost to the University of Connecticut.

Whalen has been named All-WNBA five times. Last year, she became the winningest player in WNBA history, having now been a part of more than 300 wins in the league. She also played professionally in Turkey, Russia and the Czech Republic.

She also played for two gold medal teams at the World Championships (2010, 2014) and has also won two Olympic gold medals (2012, 2016).