Rachel Banham: The Human Turntable
Rachel Banham, also known as The Human Turntable, as coined by me right now because she can’t stop spinning records, is entering her sixth season in the WNBA. The 2021 campaign will be her second with the Minnesota Lynx, her second WNBA franchise in her pro career. After spending four seasons with the Connecticut Sun, Banham moved to the Minnesota Lynx last offseason, returning to her home state to continue her professional career. Before the WNBA, Banham made national headlines in college, outpacing records and scoring at a ridiculous rate. Let’s break it down.
Welcome to Career Moments, a Nothing But Nylon series that delves into the major moments of a player, coach or other figure’s career in basketball to give you a snapshot of some of the top things they’ve accomplished and when, plus allowing you the opportunity to relive past glories and celebrate current successes.
Rachel Banham Career Moments
High School Varsity in Eighth Grade
It’s hard enough to make varsity as a freshman. Now consider how good you have to be to do it as an eighth grader.
Before becoming a student at Lakeville North High School, Banham was playing on the school’s varsity basketball team. But that’s not all. She didn’t just play, she excelled. Banham scored 208 points in 30 games as an eighth grader playing against 17 and 18 year olds.
That was the remarkable start to her high school career, and it didn’t slow down from there. Banham led the Panthers on an undefeated season her junior year in 2009-10 and helped the program win its first girl’s basketball title, securing the Class AAAA championship, 57-47, against White Bear Lake to cap off the 32-0 campaign.
By the time Banham graduated in 2011, she had won basically everything possible: Minnesota Miss Basketball, Gatorade Player of the Year, Parade All-American and much more.
Rachel Banham Conquers Records
Banham chose to stay close to home and play her college ball at Minnesota, located roughly 30 minutes north of her hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota. She made an immediate impact as a freshman, starting all 36 games and earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team after leading the Gophers in scoring (16.1 points per game), three-point percentage (42.5 percent) and triples made (54), defensive rebounds (148) and minutes played (1,213). In fact, her freshman campaign was so prolific, Banham set program freshman records for points, field goals, field goal attempts and three-point percentage, the start of her record-setting stint in Minneapolis.
The player only improved through her time as a Gopher. She was averaging better than 20 points per game as a sophomore and became the 21st Minnesota player to reach 1,000 points after putting up 37 on Illinois on Jan. 28, 2013. Her numbers kept going up her junior year as Banham broke the program’s single-season scoring record with 750 points, which included 20 or more point-performances in 22 games, and moved up to fourth in the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,993 points.
To list everything Banham accomplished in her first three college seasons would certainly deliver carpal tunnel syndrome to the messenger. For my own safety, you can find out more about her early college accomplishments here.
ACL Injury Prematurely Ends Senior Season
On Dec. 10, 2014, Minnesota played at North Dakota in an early-season non-conference showdown in Banham’s senior season. Banham snagged a steal near the opposing three-point line and drove the ball from coast to coast, looking for contact to draw an and-one at the rim.
“I had stolen the ball, I was going down the court. I was super pumped,” Banham recalled in a 2016 video with Big Ten Network. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna an and-one.'”
But as she went up for the layup, her legs came out from under her, and Banham did not land graciously. Immediately, her wails of pain pierced through the game’s audio as she writhed back and forth on the floor, her teammates helplessly standing around her in confusion and concern.
“I looked at the bench, and I was talking to them, and they were just looking right through me, so I knew it was something serious as I turned around,” Minnesota head coach Marlene Stollings said to the Big Ten Network. “It took me a few seconds to realize it was actually Rachel.”
It was a torn ACL, and it meant the end of Banham’s season after only 10 games. She began the road to recovery with surgery the next month.
“Mentally was totally the hardest part for me,” she said. “Thinking about it happening again, I had so many nights where I was dreaming of it happening and wondering, ‘Am I gonna be good again? Am I gonna be able to get back on the court and be the player I was before? Can I be better? Am I done?'”
Big Ten All-Time Scoring Leader
Banham was most certainly not done, and as she showed in the next season, which was allowed after she received a medical redshirt, Banham proved she was also still quite good.
In her redshirt senior campaign, Banham averaged 28.6 points per game, placing her second in the country, and 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per contest to boot. That single-season scoring record from her junior year? She shattered it, notching 914 points.
With 3,093 total points, Banham set a Big Ten career scoring record and climbed to sixth in all-time NCAA Division I scoring, also becoming one of 11 players to NCAA women’s basketball history to put up 3,000 points.
That’s not all, though. Banham also tied the NCAA single-game scoring record, dropping 60 on Northwestern on Feb. 7, 2016, with 19 field goals and 14 free throws, matching the mark Cindy Brown set in 1987.
Banham is now eighth on the NCAA Division I scoring list and one of 13 to have scored 3,000 or more. Her name is littered throughout the record books. Look for yourself if you don’t believe me.
Selected No. 4 Overall in 2016 WNBA Draft
The Connecticut Sun picked Rachel Banham with the No. 4 pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, ushering her into the next phase of her basketball journey.
To get the pick, Connecticut had to strike a deal with the Atlanta Dream, providing Elizabeth Williams in exchange for the Dream’s selection.
“We are excited about the trade with Atlanta allowing us to have two of the top four picks in the deep 2016 WNBA Draft,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said in a release before the draft. “It is always hard trading a talented player and great person like Elizabeth Williams, but we believe the draft provides us with a tremendous opportunity to address specific needs.”
The franchise used that opportunity to add Banham, among others.
The Sun had the No. 3 and No. 6 selections in that draft, too, and used them to add Morgan Tuck (UConn) and Jonquel Jones (George Washington), respectively. With the incoming trio, Connecticut hoped to be competitive for a long time.
Minnesota Retires Banham’s Jersey
Not long after Rachel Banham graduated and moved on from her college days, Minnesota recognized the incredible career and impact she had on its program. On Jan. 1, 2017, at halftime of a game against Maryland, her No. 1 jersey was retired in Williams Arena.
It is pretty unusual for someone to have their number retired so soon after their playing days ended, but in the case of Banham, her accomplishments were too massive to ignore.
“I am just extremely blessed and so thankful for everybody who is here, especially my family, my amazing teammates, my past teammates, all my coaches, this university, everything,” Banham told the game’s crowd during the ceremony, clearly overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s such a blessing for me, and I appreciate all the support you guys have given me over the years. Through all the ups and downs, you guys have been unreal. I can’t put it into words right now, and I’m a little nervous and awkward. I am just so thankful. I appreciate everything you guys have done for me. I just love this university so much and I’m so thankful for all of you. Thank you, go Gophers!”
Rachel Banham Gets Her First WNBA Start
Banham has come off the bench for most of her WNBA career, but she got her first start in the league on July 1, 2018, in a road date at the Seattle Storm during the middle of her third professional season.
In more than 18 minutes of action, Banham scored five points, nabbed a rebound and dished two assists as the Sun fell, 84-70.
Banham started the next four games, too, putting up double-digit scoring in two of them and tossing six assists against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 3. Some of her best scoring nights from the 2018 season came in games she didn’t start, though, with her season-high of 20 coming in an 87-78 victory at the Indiana Fever on June 24.
2019 WNBA Finals
As a member of the Sun, Banham featured in the WNBA Playoffs in 2017 and 2018, both ending in second-round losses for the team. Banham played in two total games in both of those postseason appearances.
In 2019, though, Banham and Connecticut went on a much deeper run, pushing through all the way to the WNBA Finals, the franchise’s first return to the ultimate series since 2005 and Banham’s first taste of the league’s championship.
During the run, Banham played in four games: two against the Sparks in the Semifinals and two against the Washington Mystics in the Finals. She did not score in three of those matchups, but in Game 2 of the Semifinals, she had 11 points in almost nine minutes of playing time as Connecticut slapped Los Angeles, 94-68, to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
The Sun eventually fell to the Mystics, 3-2, in the WNBA Finals.
Lynx Bring Rachel Banham Home
In February, the Minnesota Lynx executed a deal with the Sun to bring Banham back to her home state.
The Lynx shipped a 2021 second-round pick to Uncasville for Banham, continuing its history of bringing homegrown talent back to Minnesota.
“We are excited to welcome Rachel home to Minnesota,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said in a release. “Her ability to shoot the ball is something we valued during this process and we look forward to having her in a Lynx uniform this season and beyond.”
It meant a lot to Banham to return, too.
“I couldn’t be happier to be coming home and be a member of this historic franchise,” Banham explained in a statement. “Growing up a Lynx fan, I’ve always admired the way Cheryl (Reeve) and her staff have made the Lynx into a model franchise in the WNBA. I can’t wait to see everyone at Target Center this summer.”
When Banham suits up for the Lynx, in 2020 or otherwise, it will be her fifth in the WNBA.
Update – April 28, 2021
This article was originally published July 1, 2020. Since then, Banham played the 2020 WNBA season with the Minnesota Lynx, appearing in 20 games and averaging 6.9 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.3 rebounds per contest. The Lynx ended the regular season 14-8 and earned a bye to the second round of the playoffs. There, they defeated the Phoenix Mercury, 80-79, before getting swept in the semifinals by the Seattle Storm, 3-0. Banham scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor in the playoff game against the Mercury.