BRISTOL, CONN. – Before she was going through WNBA Player Orientation with 11 other elite WNBA draft prospects, Minnesota’s Rachel Banham was rubbing elbows with NBA legend Kobe Bryant and two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Well, sort of.
The day was April 6 and the meeting has already been well documented, at least for those on Twitter. During a break in Tuesday’s orientation, however, the Minnesota guard that tied the NCAA single-game scoring record with 60 points just two months prior provided some more details to the moment that made her exclaim, “It happened!!!!!!!”.
“I was just kind of standing by the court,” said Banham, who had courtside access pregame. “And (Kobe) went over to talk to Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, so I was just kind of staring at (Kobe), of course, and he looked over at me and caught eyes and he was like ‘hey’ and I was like ‘are you talking to me?’.
“Then he was like ‘hey, what’s up’ and he came over and gave me a big hug and he was like ‘I gotta get you a jersey, I gotta get you suited up, we need you out there’.
This actually wasn’t the first time that Kobe acknowledged Banham, who will selected in Thursday’s WNBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm. The Lakeville, Minn. native made national headlines throughout the year with her scoring prowess, averaging 28.6 points per game her senior season. In addition to her 60-point outburst versus Northwestern (Feb. 7), she also scored 52 versus Michigan State (Feb. 21).
Her incredible senior season, plus a clutch game-winner vs. Iowa, prompted Bryant, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest scorers, to show his respect. Again, the outlet was Twitter.
While Kobe’s professional career is nearing its ending, Banham’s professional journey is just set to begin. Banham, however, will attempt to bring the same “Mamba mentality” to the WNBA. A fearless competitor, Banham has long admired the way Bryant played the game.
“The biggest thing with him is his mentality,” Banham said. “I talk about that a lot – the Mamba mentality as it is. He has this will to win and he has the greatest work ethic. I think everyone knows he puts so much time into the game, maybe more than anyone ever has and I just really appreciate that.”
It appears the admiration is mutual.