There was a time in her life when Rachel Banham was just like the throngs of adoring young girls who hold her up as their hero on the basketball court. Thinking back to that scene, there’s nothing about it that stands out as extraordinary, nothing that would indicate this young girl would grow into one of the greatest scorers in NCAA history.
We’re in the Twin Cities suburb of Lakeville and a young Banham has a passion to play and brothers who are merciless during basketball games played on the family’s driveway. On a summer day in Minnesota, this exact vision can be found in almost any neighborhood. But somehow, Banham starts from this common place and ends up somewhere just the opposite.
“My brothers pushed my growing up … my parents constantly pushed me at every level. I definitely give them a lot of the credit for getting me to where I am,” said Banham.
That alone can’t explain how Banham ended up crushing the program record for career points on her way to the sixth-highest total ever by any NCAA women’s basketball player. Maybe it’s misguided to focus on what can be seen. The difference may be something internal.
“Just keep working hard,” Banham said, reflecting on advice she would give others who hope to achieve what she has. “No matter what you face, you can get through it.”
Banham has faced and overcome adversity at the U of M. Last season, in what would have been her senior year, a torn ACL sidelined her in the 10th game of the year. She would spend nearly a year rehabbing her knee and working her way back on to the court. Returning to the lineup this year thanks to a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA that granted her another season of eligibility, Banham made the most of her second-chance season.
Banham earned Big Ten Player of the Year and First Team All-America after setting the program’s per-game scoring record (28.6 points/game). She dropped an NCAA record-tying 60 points on Northwestern to go with outbursts of 52 and 48 and seven other games of at least 30 points. She also buried clutch shots, including a buzzer-beater to defeat Iowa at Williams Arena.
“It’s really unreal. I think right now it hasn’t fully hit me,” Banham said when asked to reflect on both her senior season and her prolific career. “It’s been an honor to play here and achieve a lot of my goals. I just love the University.”
Thinking about her own success also got Banham thinking about her fellow female student-athletes and women’s athletics.
“I think women’s sports don’t get enough love [from the public] sometimes and we have really good teams here,” she noted. “Seeing how well [those teams] do really makes me want to play well and I think also pushes our team.”
Big Ten Player of the Year
First Team All-American
Big Ten All-Time Leading Scorer