Sun's Banham has adapted to her role
Mohegan — Rachel Banham has played limited minutes for the Connecticut Sun, which poses a unique issue for the second-year guard.
“I’ve had to get used to the part where you’re sitting there for so long, you start to get cold again," Banham said. "And with these knees, I need to keep them warm.”
Banham turned 24 on Saturday (the team surprised her with a birthday cake after practice), but she’s already had three major knee surgeries. That includes microfracture surgery on her right knee on July 8, 2016, that ended her rookie season after 15 games.
Thankfully for Banham, the Sun have played well of late and provided her ample opportunities to celebrate and keep her knees loose.
“(I’ve been) jumping up and down, so I’m staying warm,” Banham said. “(When) everyone is hitting threes, I have to hop up there.”
Connecticut hosts the San Antonio Stars on Sunday (3 p.m., CSN) at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Banham has averaged 8.6 minutes in 16 games for the Sun (11-8), a far cry from the workload she carried at the University of Minnesota. She took 690 shots during the 2015-16 season, the fourth-most in Division I (Sun teammate Courtney Williams was third). She was also second nationally in scoring (28.6 ppg).
“It’s definitely different than college where you’re playing 40 minutes, starting and all that stuff,” Banham said. “You don’t realize how (much) mentally you need to be focused on what’s happening in the game because he (head coach Curt Miller) could throw you in there.
“So it’s just sitting there being prepared, but I don’t mind because I’m pretty focused when it comes to game-time. I’m also having fun (celebrating), so I don’t mind it.”
There’s an expectation in pro sports, fair-or-not, that a high draft pick must be ready to start right away. The Sun traded center Elizabeth Williams for the fourth pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft so that they could take Banham.
The reality is that every young player has to adjust to the pro game. Many need more time to evolve before they’re ready to become a consistent contributor. Karima Christmas-Kelly (Dallas), Sugar Rodgers (New York), Atlanta’s Layshia Clarendon and Williams are good current examples of that.
“I’m as confident as I’ve been since we drafted her,” Miller said. “The season that (starting point guard) Jasmine Thomas is having, it’s hard to take her off the floor. … Alex (Bentley) is a former all-star and the leading scorer for this franchise for (two) years. Courtney is explosive. Between the four of them, it’s not always easy to get everyone minutes in those two guard spots.
“Rachel is in that situation that a lot of young players go through in the league where it’s more situational than anything she’s doing right or wrong. … I just keep telling her, and my assistant coaches keep telling her, to stay confident. Your time is coming. Your role right now on this team is still really, really important.”
The upside for Banham is that she’s gradually feeling more like her old self.
“After my (ACL injury in 2014), I had the same feeling where it kind of takes you a while to be comfortable, be confident," she said. "And sometimes it takes your body a little while to just kind of click again, for your body and your body to work the way it’s used to.
“I’m pushing myself to get better every day. … I’m happy with it.”
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