McCarville Returning To Minnesota At Just The Right Time

Mark Remme
Lynx Editor/Writer

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It has been eight years since Janel McCarville last played for the Gophers. It’s nearing a decade since that memorable Final Four run in which she and Lindsay Whalen brought the University of Minnesota program to new heights and, in many ways, put it on the map.

But it only took a few minutes during Friday’s introductory press conference welcoming McCarville to the Lynx family before Executive Vice President Roger Griffith began reminiscing about her play in the maroon and gold—in particular, the way she dominated opponents with her ball handling, screens and physical play.

Now, the Lynx have a chance to possibly re-live some of those days this summer at Target Center.

McCarville joins the Lynx as part of a three-team, four-player, four-draft pick deal that, among other moving parts, sent her from New York to Minnesota along with Tulsa’s second round draft pick in 2014, and sent veteran guard Candice Wiggins to the Shock after five years with the Lynx. It means McCarville and Whalen, the two centerpieces of that 2004 Final Four team, will again play side by side in the Twin Cities.

“I’m ecstatic if you can’t tell,” McCarville said. “Whalen, just to get back on the court with her will be great. I’ve got lots of great teammates I’m looking forward to getting to know. I’ve played under coach [Cheryl Reeve] before, so we have a little history together. I’m excited to get on the court and be part of the Minnesota Lynx and tradition.”

Women’s college basketball reached new levels of popularity in Minnesota during that Final Four run, and those who followed that team still fondly recall their somewhat Cinderella trip as a seventh-seed through No. 2 Kansas State, No. 3 Boston College and No. 1 Duke to win the Mideast Region.

During that tournament run, McCarville was a rebounding machine. She brought down 75 boards and averaged 15.0 per game during the five-game stretch, both NCAA tournament records, before the Gophers’ run fell short against Diana Taurasi and the UCONN Huskies.

In listening to McCarville, there seemed to be a reminiscent sense in her voice when she talked about returning to Minnesota and once again teaming up with Whalen. After stops in Charlotte and New York during her six-year WNBA career—she has not played in the league since 2010—McCarville called this a chance at a new beginning.

She brings career averages of 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game with her to Minnesota, including a career-high 13.7 points per game in 2008 and 5.9 assists per game in 2009. But for Griffith and Reeve, McCarville brings so much more than that.

They said she’s a post player who can pass and facilitate better than most bigs, someone who can help distribute the ball to Olympians Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore as well as the rest of a Lynx squad that has compiled 54 wins, two Western Conference titles and a WNBA championship over the last two years.

That’s a trait that center Taj McWilliams-Franklin possessed during that two-year run, and it’s a valuable asset for this team being able to play inside out with one of the top shooting rosters in the league. With Mama Taj’s status still in question for the 2013 season, McCarville ensures the Lynx will have a physical center who can distribute on the roster.

Speaking of physical, McCarville won over Gophers fans during her college career with her ability to set crushing screens. Add in the ball handlers the Lynx have at the point guard and 2 and 3 spots, and couple that with another physical front court player like forward Rebekkah Brunson, and it shows why Minnesota was interested in making this deal.

“Maintaining this level—I think our group has made it look easy the last couple of years,” Reeve said. “It has not been easy. It’s been one of the best runs of two-year stretches in our league. It’s going to get harder. In order to maintain that level, Janel was someone we really needed to have.”

But it wasn’t a grand plan. Being able to assemble two of the most recognizable and beloved Gophers in program history on the same hometown WNBA franchise was always an idea, but never an absolute. Griffith said even getting Whalen back to Minnesota in 2010 was a big feat, but having both together again proves to be the product of putting the right pieces together at the right time.

“When it made sense from the team’s perspective that we thought would help us win, we were going to make the attempts to make it happen,” Griffith said. “It was waiting for the right time.”

McCarville was happy it did. She said she couldn’t wait to get to work, bouncing between her home in Wisconsin and the Twin Cities to train with Whalen, learn the offense and get prepared for 2013.

She’s hoping her arrival with the Lynx will help both the team and herself reach new heights.

“We’re not going to know until we get on the court,” McCarville said. “I think we’re going to blend right together and become a better team than they were in the past.”

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