Web Editorial Associate
Rachel Banham spent almost her entire basketball career within the state of Minnesota, attending Lakeville North High School and the University of Minnesota.
But for the last two seasons, she’s been on the outside looking in. On Tuesday, she makes her return to her home state as a member of the Connecticut Sun.
“It’s been really good. I got to see my family, some of my friends and a lot of familiar faces, so that’s always fun,” Banham said after shootaround Tuesday morning. “I’m just excited to play in front of my family and friends again all of these great fans.”
Banham, who was selected fourth overall by the Sun in the 2016 WNBA Draft, returns home to take on the Minnesota Lynx at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“It’s different, but it’s exciting,” Banham said. “As much as I am the bad guy, I know people are here supporting and all that. It is different playing against the hometown team, because obviously everyone here wants the Lynx to win. It’s definitely different. . . I’ll try and play it cool, but you know I’ll be nervous.”
Banham said she is expecting about 50 of her family and friends to be in attendance for Tuesday’s game in St. Paul.
“I’m sure other Gophers fans will come. I think that all will make me more excited,” she said. “I’ll be a little nervous, but they are just there to support and will be cheering for us, but I won’t be thinking of that once the game starts.”
Banham is in her second WNBA season, but missed last seasons game in Minnesota due to a knee injury that ended her rookie season after 15 games.
“I feel a lot more mentally prepared this year. I was able to do half of a season last year, so I feel like I have some experience from that,” Banham said. “But it is different, having to sit out so long and then getting back out there, but I’m excited.”
Banham’s journey to the WNBA was very similar to that of another Minnesota native and point guard for the Lynx, Lindsay Whalen.
Whalen and Banham both grew up in Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota, where they are currently Nos. 1 and 2 in career points scored in school history. Banham is No. 1 in Gophers history with 3,093 points, while Whalen is second with 2,285 points.
Banham went on to once again follow in Whalen’s footsteps when she was drafted in the first round by the Connecticut Sun.
“I watched her play at the U, I watched her play with the Lynx. She’s a huge role model for me,” Banham said. “But of course I’m going to get on the court and we are going to be competing. We are good friends, but on the court it’s obviously not going to be like that. It’s just cool to play on the same court as her.”
Banham said that her and Whalen have remained friends over the years and have continued to stay in contact and build on their relationship now that they are both playing in the WNBA.
“When I was at the U, she came to practice, she talked to the team,” Banham said. “Since then, we’ve caught up with each other over text messages and we’ve seen each other a few times at Mayo Clinic, so we keep in touch.”
Banham and the Sun will face off against Whalen and the Lynx at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in St. Paul. The game will be aired on ESPN2 and 106.1 BOB FM.
“I’ve been here (in Minnesota) whole life. I think it was good for me to get out of Minnesota and grow,” Banham said. “But Connecticut is a beautiful state and I love everyone there. They are so welcoming, like they are here in Minnesota. It’s been a really good experience for me so far.”