Head coach Lindsay Whalen and the Minnesota Gophers women's basketball team have plenty to be thankful for during Thanksgiving.
Not only has Minnesota played well after completing over half of their non-conference schedule, but the Gophers also had a successful recruiting class sign National Letters of Intent earlier this month for the 2020-21 season. In fact, the class was ranked as high No. 18 in the nation according to ESPN. The 18th-ranked class was the highest ranking for the Gophers since 2012, but fell two spots as other teams continued to sign players.
The class includes three players: five-star guard Alexia Smith, three-star guard Caroline Strande and four-star post player Erin Hedman.
Whalen, a former point guard herself, continues to add depth at the point guard position for Minnesota by recruiting Smith and Strande. While the Gophers will be losing senior guard Jasmine Brunson at the end of this season, they will add Smith and Strande to the mix with a returning pair of freshmen guards in Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia.
Smith is from Columbus, Ohio and was ranked as the 15th-best guard in the country in this class. Like Brunson and Powell, Smith is able to navigate to the basket and finish through contact. As a junior at Columbus Africentric Early College, Smith totaled an impressive stat line, averaging 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks per game. She has also helped lead her high school to two state championships. Smith is the first five-star recruit for either basketball program since 2011.
A native of Racine, Wisconsin, Strande is a guard who can score in bunches. She averaged 29 points last season and is the all-time leader in points at Racine Lutheran High School. But what Whalen really appreciates about Strande's style of play is her ability to rebound as a guard, averaging 10 rebounds per game last season. With the depth at guard for Minnesota, Whalen said she plans on having Strande rotate through multiple positions for the Gophers.
"She'll play one through three for us," Whalen said of Strande. "I think she prefers one but she's the type of kid who's going to play any of the positions we ask her to. She's going to be somebody who can [shoot] a little mid-range, a little three and run the team which I'm really excited about."
Hedman, a native of New Berlin, Wisconsin, looks to help fill the void that will be left by senior forward Taiye Bello. Bello has been the leading rebounder for the Gophers while being both dominant inside and a shot blocker. Whalen thinks Hedman will bring a different element to the Gophers' offense.
"She's a big kid and I don't think she's done growing either," Whalen said of Hedman. "She can shoot the ball. She's a kid who I would love to have at stretch-five who can shoot the three and then you've got a lot of kids who can space the floor and shoot it and some fun lineup options we could have."
While fans will have to wait until 2020 to see the trio on the court, the women continue their non-conference schedule on Dec. 8 against American.