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Gophers’ Lindsay Whalen is first-ballot hall of famer

The former All-American and WNBA champion is joined by another Gophers player, Lou Hudson, in the 2022 class

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Hall of Fame Press Conference
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Lindsay Whalen speaks during a press conference on Saturday at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports
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Lindsay Whalen was named a first-ballot member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, and while the former Gophers All-American and WNBA champion won’t be available to the media until Sunday, she had some big names fill in for her at Target Center.

“She’s one of my favorite people, and she’s one of my favorite people that I’ve ever coached,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday in the run-up to Sunday’s NCAA title game at the Women’s Final Four between his Huskies and Dawn Staley’s top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks.

Whalen and the rest of the 2022 class will be officially inducted during a ceremony Sept. 10 in Springfield, Mass. Fellow Gophers alum Lou Hudson, one of the first three Black athletes to earn basketball scholarships at the U and a six-time NBA all-star with the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks, also will be inducted.

Hudson was inducted posthumously. He died after suffering a stroke in 2014. He was 69. He was drafted No. 4 overall by the St. Louis Hawks in 1966 and played 11 seasons in the NBA. Minnesota retired his No. 14 jersey in 1994.

Other members of the 2022 class include former players Swin Cash, Manu Ginobili, Tim Hardaway and Theresa Grentz, and coaches George Karl and Bob Huggins.

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Lou Hudson, right, forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, is congratulated by baseball’s Hank Aaron after a ceremony retiring Hudson’s jersey as a player for the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 29, 1977. (AP Photo/Joe Sebo)Whalen was at the men’s Final Four in New Orleans for a ceremony on Saturday and is expected to hold a news conference before the women’s title game on Sunday at Target Center.

“She actually was my favorite point guard,” Staley said. “I like how she’s wired.”

Auriemma coached Whalen on four U.S. national teams from 2010-2016, winning two Olympic and two World Championship gold medals. Staley was an assistant coach on the 2016 team. Both coaches have already been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

“A lot of times people think (players) are just that good, they can figure things out,” Staley added. “But (Whalen) actually wanted to know and didn’t have an issue voicing, asking the questions to make sure. That is why she’s going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

Whalen was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 WNBA draft after starting four seasons as the Gophers’ point guard. She won four championships with the Minnesota Lynx before retiring to coach at her alma mater in 2017. At Minnesota, she was the Gophers’ leading scorer all four of her seasons and led the team in assists three times.

A four-time all-state selection at Hutchinson High School, Whalen finished as Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer (2,285 points) before being surpassed by Rachel Banham (3,093) in 2016.

Perhaps more important, Whalen led the Gophers to three NCAA Tournament appearances, twice advancing to the Sweet Sixteen and once to the program’s only Final Four as a No. 7 seed, and with teammate Janelle McCarville raised the popularity of women’s basketball to new levels in the state — helping Minnesota sell out Williams Arena after moving from the smaller Pavilion.

The 2004 Final Four team lost to Auriemma’s second-seeded Connecticut team in the national semifinals in New Orleans. The Huskies moved on to beat Tennessee for the NCAA title.

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“I remember praying that they would lose (in the regional final) because I knew that we would have to play them in the Final Four,” Auriemma said Saturday, “and I knew that they were going to be really, really, really difficult the way that team was put together.”

Auriemma’s Olympics teams won two gold medals with Whalen on the floor.

“She’s an all-star, and she’s an WNBA champion, and I asked her to come off the bench and be a role player for the Olympic team,” he said. “And she did it about as well as it could ever be done by anybody, and did it twice without ever batting an eye. To me, that’s what champions do.”

MINNESOTA HALL OF FAMERS

Minnesota natives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame:

  • Cliff Fagan, Mankato. Longtime on-court official was dedicated to improving officiating and administration in high school sports.
  • George Keogan, Minnesota Lake. Innovative coach won 77 percent of his games in 20 years (1923-43) at Notre Dame.
  • Kevin McHale, Hibbing. A center for the Gophers, he won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.
  • Lindsay Whalen, Hutchinson. Point guard led Gophers to the 2004 Final Four and won four WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx.
  • Fred Zollner, Little Falls. Helped oversee creation of the NBA in 1949. Owned franchises in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Detroit.
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