Lindsay Whalen ready to instill her own vision for Minnesota Gophers

She was a legend on the court. And coach Lindsay Whalen has equally high standards for the program she hopes to build at Minnesota. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Lindsay Whalen repeatedly taps her pen against the notebook she is carrying, scrunching her eyebrows as she yells out instructions. "Patience with the ball," she calls after a turnover by Team Americas.

It's the inaugural edition of the Aurora Games, and Whalen, a former WNBA star who is now the head coach of the University of Minnesota women's basketball team, is coaching the Americas side against Team World. It's an exhibition game; the results have no real consequence.

But if there's one thing we know about the former Olympic gold medalist and four-time WNBA champion, it's how much Whalen loves competing -- and winning. She claps for every free throw and repeatedly yells "Pass the ball" when she sees a player holding it for too long.

"Man, I am so glad I am not playing this game," Whalen said with a laugh at a news conference the day before the game.

"I can rebound during practice now and that's it," she added with a wry smile.

The former point guard retired a year ago and then immediately transitioned into the role of head coach. In a conversation with ESPN before Thursday's game -- an 85-77 loss for Team Americas -- Whalen, 37, discussed what she misses about playing, how coaching helps bring out her competitive side and her vision for the Golden Gophers.

ESPN: What do you like better about coaching versus playing, and vice versa?

Lindsay Whalen: The things I miss about playing are teamwork and camaraderie. You still get that as a coach, but as far as coaching, I like the fact that I am not as sore after the games. Coaching is still part of the game you love, and the players are wonderful to be around. Events like this are fun because everybody is so good to each other and are happy to be here, so it makes it a lot of fun.

ESPN: Minnesota got off to a great start last season, opening with 12 consecutive wins, but finished 21-11 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten. What are your expectations for your second season?

Whalen: The Big Ten is really tough. I want to build off of last year. I think I will be better prepared as a coach to handle the rigors of the Big Ten season. We have a much harder nonconference schedule, which I think is going to be good because it's going to prepare us for the Big Ten season. It's hard to say a record or where we'd want to finish, but I want to make the NCAA tournament. A lot of our seniors want to get back there. They got to play in two [NCAA tournament] games [in 2018]. Last year we made the WNIT. I'd love to make the next step and make the NCAA tournament. That's a big goal for sure.

"I want to build a program where players really grow and learn. To have a really safe place to go through a really important time in their lives when there is a lot of development." Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen

ESPN: What is your vision for Minnesota?

Whalen: Every team I was on, all my successful teams, we were great teammates to each other, we really valued each other as people first. I want to build that. I want to build a program where players really grow and learn. To have a really safe place to go through a really important time in their lives when there is a lot of development.

I want that to be first and foremost. I want to make sure we are cognizant [of that] and treating each other as good people first. And then when you go through adversity and hard times during the season, when you have that bond and when your team is like your family, the team will get you through that hard time, you know?

Every season you will have two, three or maybe even four losing streaks, but if you have a family atmosphere you can rely on each other and get through that time. If you don't have that, we might struggle, so that's [very important to build].

ESPN: What are some of the shifts you've made since you began coaching as you begin preparation for the second season?

Whalen: I think I have a better understanding of how I want to build practice and how I want for things to go over in the fall and into October, how you want to build things to get your team ready for games. I have a much better understanding of what that looks like and what that takes. My first year I was learning a lot and I am sure I will continue to learn, but I definitely have a better understanding of the rigors of the season and what you want to build and what to look for and expect.

ESPN: How has your competitiveness as a player translated into your coaching?

Whalen: You still get a lot of that competitive spirit as a coach. You are still trying to win -- at the end of the day it falls on you. You want to win the game, you want to make the necessary adjustments and put your team in the best possible position to win. You're still competing against the best coaches and the best players in the country.

ESPN: What do you think about recruiting? Is it challenging to recruit against coaches and assistant coaches who have been doing it for decades?

Whalen: Recruiting is building relationships and getting to know people, and hopefully they share your vision and goal on how you want to run the program. But there are a lot of recruiters out there with a lot of experience and great seasons. It's tough, but it's another competitive challenge.

ESPN: What was it like the first time you went on a recruiting trip? Were you nervous?

Whalen: You kind of just go on and talk to people -- I was a little nervous. You tell them about yourself, try to get to know them the best you can. Hopefully they are receptive and wanting to talk to you.

The first time I went recruiting was such a blur. I don't even remember who it was, but I said something like, "Hey, I am a coach." And I remember talking about my goals and vision for the program and walked away thinking I did an OK job.

ESPN: How has this summer -- your first without playing in the WNBA -- been for you? What has it been like being a spectator while your friends and former teammates are on the court?

Whalen: Watching my friends and [former] teammates, it's been a lot of fun. It's been fun to watch the league and see everybody compete. Do I miss it? Yes, parts of it. But I was ready to be done when I left. I miss the camaraderie, the team, the competitiveness, the crowd and the energy from the crowd. Practice -- I really miss practice. I loved to practice as a player!