MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the WNBA’s most decorated players is returning home to the Minnesota Gophers.

In a surprise announcement Thursday afternoon, the University of Minnesota named Lindsay Whalen the new women’s basketball head coach.

Whalen is going to play her season with the Minnesota Lynx before assuming her full-time duties as the new Gopher women’s basketball coach. How she plans on juggling the responsibilities of playing her 14th WNBA season and preparing for the Gophers season we won’t know until their news conference Friday afternoon.

“People talk about the `it’ factor, and that is always difficult to define, but everyone who has ever spent time around Lindsay Whalen knows she has it,” said Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle. “She has excelled at everything she has ever done in her life because she’s unflappable, determined and has a legendary work ethic. She’s played for some of the top coaches in the world, she’s competed at the highest levels the sport has to offer, and I know she will be a great head coach for our women’s basketball program.”

Whalen has become an iconic figure in Minnesota, and it started at the University of Minnesota, where she was the first three-time All-American in program history, along with a three time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.

Whalen led the Gophers to their only Final Four appearance back in 2004, which ironically, was the last time the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs.

Whalen has helped the Lynx win four WNBA championships since 2011 and has played competitively internationally, winning two gold medals.

“Becoming the head coach here at the U and being a Gopher again is a dream come true. At every level, basketball has given me so much,” Whalen said in a statement. “I’ve learned from so many great players, coaches and mentors, and now I have a chance to share that knowledge and help shape the new generation of Gopher stars. I’m ready to get started.”

Whalen was a high school star in Hutchinson, earning all-state honors four straight years. Tim Ellefson is the current head coach of the girls’ basketball team at Hutchinson.

”We still see her as Lindsay from Hutchinson out here,” he said. “And the impact she had on Minnesota basketball, being from Hutchinson, was a huge deal to us,” he said.

Ellefson never coached her, but like many from Hutchinson he proudly watched her career ascend from college to the pros, and now to the coaching ranks.

“Her passion for basketball is what set her apart more than anything,” he said.

And Whalen’s skillset on the court is why he feels she’ll flourish as the women’s head basketball coach at the University of Minnesota.

“What sets her apart as a player is her ability to see every little detail that makes you tougher to guard, tougher to play against,” Ellefson said. “And being a point guard and being able to see things develop before they happen is something that a coach needs to be able to do.”

Hutchinson High School is undergoing a massive renovation, with the gym where Whalen played looking more like a construction site than a basketball court. And as she works on building up a strong program at her alma mater, she’ll continue to play for the Minnesota Lynx.

“Probably the biggest thing your job is at that university is to promote your program. And boy, being on TV every week, a world champion team is probably going to give some good shoutouts to her team,” Ellefson said.

Ellefson feels Whalen’s deep roots in Minnesota and her decorated career will help her land top recruits for the gophers. He also anticipate a boost in season ticket sales. especially from people in Hutchinson.

“I think it’s a great accommodation that the U of M has given her to be able to finish out her career on her own terms, but yet, promoting the U of M at the same time,” he said.

Still, this will be a tough task for Whalen, from hiring her assistant coaches, to recruiting. There’s no doubt the X’s and O’s will be the easiest part for her. She’ll take over at the U of M when the Lynx season ends, which she hopes will be with another championship.

“I would like to thank Coach Reeve and the Lynx organization for their support during this process. As I started this process with the University of Minnesota, it was important to me that I returned to the Lynx this season. I’m very excited about our upcoming season and I look forward to returning to a renovated Target Center and playing in front of our great fans,” Whalen said.

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