Sun's Banham is happy, healthy and ready to go
Mohegan — Rachel Banham pulled up her shirt sleeve and pointed to her left bicep.
“I’m buff,” the Connecticut Sun guard joked Saturday while the team had tryouts for practice players. “I’m going to show everybody my pipes this year.
“I’m back to health … I’m strong. I’m so much stronger than I have been. That’s been huge. I’ve been lifting like crazy. I’m really focused on getting my body right.”
That last sentence should make everyone in the Sun front office shout “hallelujah!” — and knock on wood — after Banham’s rotten fortune.
Connecticut traded post Elizabeth Williams to the Atlanta Dream after the 2015 season for the fourth overall pick in the 2016 to select Banham. She had a decorated career at Minnesota and graduated seventh overall for most career points in Division I history (3,093). She is one of 12 who scored 3,000 career points in Division I history, joining the likes of Brittney Griner, Maya Moore and Cheryl Miller.
Things went awry for Banham during her 2016 rookie season as she only played in 15 games because she needed micro-fracture surgery on her right knee. It was the same knee that she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in December 2014, resulting in her getting a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA to play in 2015-16. She also had surgery on both knees for patellar tendinitis in June 2013.
Banham was physically unable to play overseas last offseason, yet another setback because international play helps young players grow. She averaged 9.4 minutes in 30 regular season games for the Sun last season.
“I’m finally 100-percent,” Banham said. “Mentally (last season) I was trying to figure out how to be confident again with my body and my movements. That’s kind of one of the hardest things about coming off the surgeries, being able to just drive in there and move and not think about hurting or getting hurt. I feel like I finally passed that point. Just play, not think about everything.”
“It’s nice to see her out of the brace shooting the ball well,” Sun general manager and head coach Curt Miller said. “I hope that she has the confidence that she belongs now and understands where the growth still needs to happen in her game. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the coaching staff has confidence in her.”
Banham started for the Bendigo Spirit of the Australian Women's National Basketball League this offseason. She shot 41-percent and finished third on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg), oddly enough behind former Sun fan favorite Kelsey Griffin and Betnijah Laney, respectively.
Griffin and Laney have both signed training camp contracts with Connecticut. WNBA training camps open April 29.
“Australia is amazing,” Banham said. “It’s beautiful there. I love the accents. I was hoping to come back with one, but no luck. There’s a ton of spiders there. That’s the one thing I’d warn everybody about, but it’s really cool. The people are amazing. The weather, it was 90, then back (home) in Minnesota it was in the negatives, so I was living the life.”
Bendigo finished last (4-17) in the eight-team league which ran from October 5 and ended its regular season on New Year’s Eve.
The upside to the compact schedule was that it gave Banham a chance to rest and recover before the WNBA season, a rarity for women’s players who need to play overseas to supplement their income.
The downside to the season ending early for Banham was all the losing.
"Our team struggled we had injuries all season, so we never really had a consistent crew, which made it really, really, really tough," Banham said. "Handling adversity over there (the losing), I think, was huge, growing through that.
“Losing is different,” Banham said. “Losing a lot by a lot is different … I’m so competitive, so it eats at me at night. So I had to find ways not to try not to stay up all night thinking about every mistake I made and everything that was going wrong; how to fix the world’s problems in one night.
“That was probably the biggest thing for me, mentally being, ‘it’s going to be okay.’”
• Miller said that the team will add an unsigned free agent or more this week in order to start training camp with the WNBA maximum of 15 players. Post Brionna Jones and guards Alex Bentley and Leticia Romero will arrive late due to overseas commitments, and Miller said he’s “unsure” if others might arrive late.