Unsung Hero Lindsay Whalen Lets Her Game Speak For Itself
Lindsay Whalen does not receive the same level of attention as some of her more high-profile teammates on the USA National Team. Veterans Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, for example, have each earned three Olympic gold medals during a tenure that has spanned more than a decade.
However, Whalen’s role on the team is just as valuable as the aforementioned players. She is very much a leader for the USA. And she will again be very much relied upon to play a significant role as the U.S. chases its sixth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio.
“Everything she does is understated until you really need her,” USA head coach Geno Auriemma said. “In that respect, her and Sue are a lot alike. But Lindsay competes at a really, really high level and she does it without all the fanfare that maybe Maya (Moore) would get or Diana would get or Tamika Catchings. She just does it much more quietly. And even on her (Minnesota Lynx) team with all those stars, she leads by this quiet strength that she has and she knows she’s worked really hard for this. This was never given to her. It was something that she earned.”
While several players on the current U.S. roster were afforded the opportunity to join the National Team merely months after their collegiate careers had concluded, Whalen’s journey to the top of the sport took a bit longer. Four years after leading the University of Minnesota to the 2004 Final Four in New Orleans to be exact.
Whalen, humble and dedicated to her craft, was able to overcome ankle surgery Jan. 10, 2006 to start in the WNBA All-Star Game only months later. She would lead the league in assists for the first time the following season before finishing second to Candace Parker in the race for league Most Valuable Player by 34.71 points in 2008. That was the year USA Basketball came calling. Whalen’s hard work had paid off.
Now, in slightly more than a week, Whalen will compete in her second consecutive Olympic Games.
“You don’t want to never say never, but it definitely has come after a lot of hard work and a lot of time just in the gym and a lot of working on getting better,” Whalen said. “Also, playing around great teammates and playing for great coaches in the WNBA, it’s allowed me to continue to get better as a player and given me this opportunity.”
The USA has been perfect with Whalen on the roster, winning gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London (8-0) and at the FIBA World Championship in 2010 (9-0) and 2014 (6-0).
In those three events, Whalen averaged a combined 7.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 23 games off the bench. She averaged 8.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in London and was seventh overall in field goal percentage (.533).
“In some ways, I know USA Basketball is already thinking about the future in terms of who is going to take over the point guard spot,” Bird said. “And I think what appears as the natural progression is for somebody at a young age to come on the team and gain experience. But then you look at Lindsay. And Lindsay didn’t do it that way.
“She was somebody that played in the WNBA, got better each year, had a lot of success, went overseas, got used to the international game and then, boom, at a later date joined the team and has, obviously, had a tremendous impact. So I think, if anything, what Lindsay has done can kind of pave the way for maybe whoever the next point guard is, which is somebody that got experience and then was able to come on the team and play a major role.”
Whalen, who also underwent ankle surgery in the fall of 2011, was again solid in Monday’s 88-84 win over the USA Select Team at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. She finished with nine points (4-of-8 FG), two rebounds, a team-high five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 18 minutes.
“I think we all just want to try to do what we need to do for the team,” Whalen said. “You’re here for a reason and you want to just play the best that you can and to the best of your ability. So as long as we’re working hard and doing our things as teammates that’s all we can really ask. So that’s kind of my thing every day is be a good teammate and try to go in there and do some good things while I’m out there.”
Whalen, 34, has evolved into a champion over the course of her career. She has won three WNBA titles with the Lynx (2011, 2013, 2015). She already has one Olympic gold medal to her credit, and could add to her collection in a matter of weeks.
It might have taken a while for Whalen to reach the top. But now that she has arrived her place there is well established.
“When you think about it, she got kind of a late start,” Auriemma said. “Sue and Dee and Tamika Catchings and those guys got involved with the National Team stuff at an early age and it wasn’t until 2010 that Lindsay played in her first World Championship event. And just in these past six years she’s made herself an invaluable part of the program. Not even bringing up the WNBA championships she’s won and what she’s meant to the WNBA and what a great leader she is. Obviously, we have two point guards on our team and I think we have the two best that play in the WNBA.”