Posted On: 11/9/18 7:12 AM
Jeff Crosby’s Roseville Raiders have one of the most professional coaching staffs you will find in Minnesota high school basketball, and the program’s results speak for themselves. With all due respect to Roseville assistants Scott Lauinger, Nikki Tester, Sam Jordan and Scott Hoeg, however, the staff is about to get a major upgrade. When high school practice opens on Monday, Roseville will welcome new assistant coach Rachel Banham. Yes, that Rachel Banham.
“Coaching is something I don’t know enough about and it’s something I want to learn,” Banham said. “I want it to be a long-term thing. I am dipping my toe in the water I guess because it is the first time and I am wanting to see what kind of a coach I can be. I do want it to be something long-term and to grow from it.”
Banham may say she doesn’t know a lot about coaching but she certainly knows a lot about how to play the game. The 25-year-old is the all-time leading scorer at the University of Minnesota, was Big Ten Player of the Year, and tied the NCAA record for most points in a game with 60 against Northwestern. The fourth pick in the 2016 WNBA draft, Banham just completed her third season with the Connecticut Sun. That’s where Lindsay Whalen, the new Minnesota coach, started her WNBA career, too.
A relationship forged at North Tartan
Crosby and Banham know each other from the days when Banham played AAU ball for North Tartan and Crosby was an assistant coach on Gerard Coury’s team. They forged a solid coach-player relationship at that time and have stayed in touch over the years. Crosby recruited Banham to work at Roseville kids camps in the past. Once he learned that she was moving to Minneapolis and was not going to play overseas this winter, he jumped at the opportunity to add Banham to his staff.
“I think she’s going to fit in great,” said Crosby, who took his team to the state tournament for the first team last season. “She’s going to do a lot of guard stuff. She’s also going to lead our weight room activities and really develop that… It’s going to be great. The girls are so excited about Rachel being here, they’re excited to get the season started.”
That’s an understatement. The kids’ reaction to the news was predictable. “I called our captains, Kaylee Nelson and Jayda Johnston, into my office and they thought it was because the new uniforms had come in,” Crosby explained. “We talked about a couple things and then I just said, ‘Oh, by the way, Rachel Banham is our new assistant coach.’ They were like, ‘Wait… what?’… There has been a bit of the shock and wow factor. Rachel met the players for the first time last week. It might take them a while to get over the fact that it’s Rachel Banham, but she’ll get on their case for something and that will make it real.”
Johnston and Nelson were giddy at the news. “I was so excited and I still am,” Jayda said. “The energy that the team already has going into the season, on top of the opportunity to be coached by Rachel Banham, is unreal.”
“It’s a special opportunity”
Of course this all would not have come about had Banham elected to return to the Bendigo Spirit of Australia’s WNBL, or play in Europe this winter. She weighed some offers and decided it was better for her career long-term to work on her game here. “I really want to preserve my body,” said Banham, who was a five-year varsity starter at Lakeville North. “I have had multiple knee surgeries and I just can’t do a full season over there. It’s really hard on your body coming right back and going straight into the season. I really want to make it big in the WNBA so that’s my focus.”
Roseville went 23-8 last winter, making it to the final four in class 4A before being eliminated by Hopkins. The Raiders are one of the favorites in the Suburban East and may occupy the driver’s seat in section 5AAAA, as well. The one player who stands to gain the most from Banham’s presence is Raiders’ senior point guard Jada Hood. Her play was instrumental in Roseville’s run to state last spring and she’s coming off a terrific summer with the Minnesota Suns. Hood is the #63-ranked player in the class of 2019 and is currently weighing a number of college basketball opportunities. Hood is good, but the opportunity to be tutored every day by one of the greatest guards in Minnesota history could prove invaluable. Of course it’s a big deal for all of the Roseville players.
“I know she is going to help us in a lot of ways,” said Johnston, a Prep Girls Hoops top 10 player in the class of 2020. “She has so much experience on the basketball court. She’s been coached by so many amazing coaches and she has played against so many talented players. I think that her level of mental toughness and experience on what it takes to get to that next level is going to really help motivate the team and really take us to that next level. It is a special opportunity.”
Top photo: Gopher great Rachel Banham connected with Roseville coach Jeff Crosby when they were both at North Tartan (photo courtesy of ESPN)