Rachel Banham is starting her pro career as one of several new faces on the Connecticut Sun.
The former Gophers star was drafted fourth overall by the team on April 14 and began training camp last week under first-year head coach Curt Miller. The Sun also drafted forward Morgan Tuck third overall and forward Jonquel Jones sixth overall in the draft to give the team a trio of highly regarded rookies.
Banham said coming into the league under a new head coach has made her transition smoother because everyone is adjusting to a new system — not just the rookies.
“Everyone’s just willing to be helpful. … We’re all learning a new system since it’s a new coach, so that’s kind of fun that we all can kind of work together to figure it all out,” Banham said. “[Miller’s] always like, ‘I’m a rookie.’ … He’s excited, so he feeds off to us, and we all just kind of want to have the same passion.”
Miller was previously the head coach at Indiana for two seasons from 2012-14 and was able to watch Banham play firsthand in the Big Ten.
“I’m very familiar with her game. Obviously, it’s hard not to appreciate her offensive game. … She’s a terrific scorer, not only off the catch but off the dribble,” Miller said. “[She has the] ability to play multiple positions for us. Not only do we think she can play the point guard position but we can play her off the ball also.”
Banham entered the draft after a record-setting senior year. She broke Minnesota’s career scoring record, tied the NCAA record for most points in a game and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and a First Team All-American.
Banham said the biggest adjustment to the WNBA has been the increased athleticism and physicality.
“It is very, very physical, and it’s tough,” Banham said. “Girls that are guarding me are very, very fast.”
Miller agreed and said the team’s rookies are all playing fast in camp right now. He said once the players get comfortable, things will slow down for them again as they keep learning.
“Everybody realizes we’re all in this together. We’ve got such a young and promising future, and we know there’s going to be some growing pains,” Miller said. “There’s something special about having a young team and being a first-time head coach because you’re doing everything together for the first time.”
Miller added that Banham has already shown the potential to be the same offensive force in the WNBA as she was in college.
“I love her confidence. … [Banham] plays with a swagger,” Miller said. “Any great shooter through their career, men or women, have that ultimate confidence that, ‘Even if I miss a few shots, the next one’s going to go in.’”
Banham said she’s just happy her life has calmed back down after a busy two weeks leading up to the draft.
She attended the College Basketball Awards Show in Los Angeles, went to a Lakers game to meet her idol Kobe Bryant and then traveled to Connecticut to attend the draft.
“It all happened so fast, and it was just a really cool experience. Draft night was really exciting and also really nerve-wracking because you really have no idea where you’re going to end up,” Banham said. “When I heard my name called, I was very happy, and I’m excited to be in Connecticut.”