Ironically, Lindsay Whalen could be one of the keys that unlocks Geno Auriemma’s first – and likely only – Olympic gold medal as a head coach next month in London.
“You watch Lindsay play, and you don’t get a full appreciation for her until you’re around her in practice and you see some of the things she does,” said Auriemma. “I always knew that she had the ability to get to the basket. I always knew she was one of the toughest kids in the league.”
That was abundantly clear Monday when Whalen scored 21 points (8-of-12) with five rebounds and five assists to lead the USA to an easy 99-67 win over Brazil at the Verizon Center.
“When Lindsay is dribbling it’s like she’s always looking to move the chains. When she’s pushing the ball up the floor there are a lot of people getting out of her way,” said Auriemma. “I wasn’t sure she could shoot it from the perimeter. I wasn’t sure whether or not she would have the respect of all of these great players because she’s not Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi. She doesn’t have that kind of reputation.
“But she’s earned the respect of every one of these players and everyone on the coaching staff, for sure.”
Without Sue Bird for an indefinite amount of time [her stepfather passed away] Whalen will again be at the point Wednesday when the USA continues its Olympic preparation in Manchester, England against Great Britain.
From there, the USA women travel to Istanbul to play Croatia on Saturday and Turkey on Sunday. Then it’s off to London and it first medal game July 28 against Croatia.”
This is Whalen’s first Olympiad, a source of great pride for her. She didn’t make the team in 2008, which naturally disappointed her. But she rebounded, helping to lead the USA to the 2010 World Championship before trumping the accomplishment.
With Whalen it’s always been about perception. Sun coach Mike Thibault loved Whalen and agreed to trade her to Minnesota in 2010 only because he realized it would help him land Tina Charles with the first pick of the 2010 WNBA Draft.
“I am so happy to know that she is finally getting the recognition she deserves,” said Thibault.
Although Whalen is in great shape now – Auriemma called it “phenomenal” – she has never been the sleekest athlete. But she is quicker than she looks.
“I just wanted to make sure we came out, got good looks and shared the ball, moved the ball,” said Whalen. “Be aggressive when the time presented itself. I think it was a good start for us. Got up, pressured the ball, make sure things happen. I think that was the biggest thing coming in and making sure we got good looks.”
Live and learn. Auriemma has grown to love her.
“I think the fact she’s able to come off the bench and do whatever you want her to do, whether it’s run the offense, score points, play defense, pressure people, she’s just a special kid to be around,” said Auriemma. “I would think over the next month, she’s going to have a real big impact on our team.”
If Whalen hadn’t been front and center in the consciousness of women’s basketball fans before, despite her vast body of work in the WNBA, will be soon. The world stage is an influential one.
“Lindsay did an awesome job,” said Tamika Catchings, USA’s veteran forward. “She knew that she had to step up with Sue (Bird) out. We always talk about when one person goes down somebody is going to have to step up. As one of the only point guards, Lindsay knew she had to take control and she did that for us.”
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