Gopher Sports: Welcoming the Newbies 2021-22 Season

Ignatius L Hoops

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First Up: Maggie Czinano:
Up first, it's Maggie Czinano, a 6'0 freshman guard from Watertown, Minn. Czinano earned Star Tribune All-Metro Honorable Mention honors as a senior, averaging 21.8 points per game. She was a three-time all-conference honoree and was named all-state as a junior as she averaged 21 points, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists per contest. During her prep career, Czinano helped helped Watertown-Mayer High School to a pair of conference championships, a section championship and a third-place finish at the 2017 state tournament.

GopherSports.com: When did you start playing basketball?
Maggie Czinano:
"I've been playing basketball for as long as I can remember. My family is a very basketball-oriented family, so you could just be playing pickup in the driveway or bouncing a ball down the street on a walk. It's just grown up with me. That's how I began to love the sport."

GS: When did you realize you might be able to play in college?
MC:
"I only joined AAU going into the eighth grade because I'm from a small town where AAU wasn't a huge thing at my school. After that year and going into my next year and having schools reach out, those letters in the mail kind of hits you and you're thinking 'wait, I can actually do this. This is something I can achieve.' From there it was a goal and then reaching out to get that goal.

GS: What was your recruiting process like?
MC:
"I loved it. I have an older sister that went through the same process so that made it really easy. I had all my questions answered right at home. My recruiting process didn't get affected by COVID, which I know a lot of the girls that I played with did, which was super nice; I committed nice and early. So yeah, I loved doing it. I loved the phone calls and interacting with other coaches. I couldn't have asked for a better recruiting process."

GS: What made you decide on Minnesota?
MC:
"For sure, the coaches. Obviously during recruiting you talk to a lot of coaches, you talk to even a lot of players, and the Minnesota coaches were so relatable and they really asked about you, instead of basketball. They wanted to get to know you instead of just you as a basketball player. That really stuck out for me in the long run."

GS: How familiar were you with Coach Whalen and all the success she had in her career?
MC:
"Well coming from Minnesota you hear her name pretty often. Especially for my family, I think my family is still in shock that I see Lindsay Whalen on a daily basis. But if definitely was a factor going to Minnesota knowing how much experience she had and all the different coaching she's had. You knew she was going to do something great with the program, and look where she is now."

GS: Your sister plays at Iowa. What have you learned about the Big Ten and the college game from watching her?
MC:
"I've learned a ton from her. She's someone I'm always able to FaceTime or call if I have questions. Mostly I learned to just work hard every single day. You're going to have bad days or bad practices and you're going to have good days, so it's just breaking through those and giving it your 100 percent because it's going to pay off in those games where you need it. So definitely just that work ethic and going at it every single day."

GS: You said she helped you during your recruiting process. Is there anything specific she helped with and did she try to sway you toward Iowa or leave it all up to you?
MC:
"She left it totally up to me, which I loved. She was not persuasive one way or another. In the beginning of my recruiting process I was a really shy little eighth grader, and I was super nervous to call these coaches. So she would come and sit down next to me and be there with me on those phone calls and tell me what I should and shouldn't say, like what I should say about myself or maybe not say until later in the recruiting process. That was super helpful."

GS: Have you and your sister talked about what that first game between Minnesota and Iowa is going to be like?
MC:
"Oh yeah, from the first day I committed. We're very competitive, so even the talk is very competitive."

GS: Do you know what your parents are going to do for those games? Will one wear Minnesota gear and one wear Iowa?
MC:
"I would hope they would all wear Minnesota gear, but I think somehow we'll have to get them a half-Iowa, half-Minnesota shirt and see then who shows up in the most Minnesota gear and see who wins.

GS: How would you describe your game?
MC:
"I'm pretty lengthy, and I use my length to my advantage. I also take pride in my quickness. I have a very quick first step, and I'm very quick to get up and down the floor. And with practicing with this team, it's going to be great; I love getting up and down the floor with them."

GS: You've had some time to practice with your Gophers teammates. What have been your first impressions?
MC:
"I absolutely love it. I love the speed, which I was really nervous about coming in. I was thinking 'this is a whole new game, I'm from a small town," but the girls are just amazing. They build you up when you're feeling down or not making your shots. And the speed of the game is just something I've fallen in love with."

GS: Are there any particular teammates who have taken you under their wing and helped you out so far?
MC:
"Yeah, I room with Caroline Strande and Katie Borowicz is also in my room. Katie came for half of a season last year, and Caroline is now a sophomore so coming back home and having them talk about what practice is going to be like before we even got there and what weights is going to be like, and all these expectations was really nice going into it with an open mind and knowing what you're doing."

GS: You talked about the speed earlier, so I assume you've noticed a jump in the level of competition since working out with the Gophers?
MC:
"Absolutely. Every player you're going to come into contact with has experience and they deserve to be here. And you're not from a small town getting tripled-teamed anymore, you have to get yourself open and make those moves on your own, so it's definitely a huge jump in ability and even confidence in the players. You've just got to be along for the ride; you'll learn eventually."

GS: How do you think you've fared in your summer workouts? Do you think you're keeping up with everyone or have you felt like you needed to step up your game?
MC:
"I think with my team and the girls we have now it's really easy to be confident in the shots you're taking. You're not judged or looked down on, so I think keeping up with them is very easy. I don't it's a really big jump from high school to Big Ten play, but these girls have made it amazing."

GS: You'll be wearing No. 5 for Minnesota. Is there any significance to that number for you?
MC:
"I've always been No. 5, and it's stuck."

Off the Court with Maggie
Favorite Food:
Steak, medium
Favorite Movie: I'm a little kid at heart so I love Coco.
Favorite Social Media App: Instagram
Hidden talent: I'm a pretty good soccer juggler
Favorite WNBA Player: Arike Ogunbawale
Favorite basketball moment of your career: In high school, I was able to play with my older sister and my younger sister, so that's super special to me.
 


Ignatius L Hoops

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Bailey Helgren:

Up next, it's Bailey Helgren, a 6'5 graduate transfer from the University of Kansas. In her four seasons of competition with the Jayhawks, the Edina, Minn., native played in 95 games with 72 starts and averaged 2.6 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 53.6 percent from the floor in 21.1 minutes of action. In the classroom, she was a two-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree and a member of the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team for the 2017-18 season.

GopherSports.com: How old were you when you started playing basketball?
Bailey Helgren:
"I started playing basketball in first grade, I think, and for me it was always in my family. Both of my parents played basketball in college, and I have two brothers, so it was always something that we did together for fun. And then growing up I recognized my passion for it, and I wanted to keep learning and getting better."

GS: What was your recruiting process like coming out of high school?
BH:
"Out of high school, at first I think it was overwhelming because I just didn't know what to expect when you're 16 years old. But with the help of my family I found a spot where I was comfortable and grew a lot as a basketball player and as a person. But now I'm super happy to be back home. But yeah, I'd say the recruiting process was learning a lot and then deciding what would be best for you with numerous factors."

GS: Did you look at Minnesota at all coming out of high school?
BH:
"Yeah, I did look at Minnesota out of high school, but at that time I didn't think it was the best fit for me."

GS: What was the process like once you decided to transfer? How was it different from your high school recruiting?
BH:
"I would say that at this point I've experienced college basketball and all the aspects that come with it, so I think for me I was much more educated and knowledgeable about what I wanted. This was my last year, too, so it was something I spent a lot of time on, but overall the process was a lot easier for me now than it was in high school because I had done it before so it wasn't super overwhelming or chaotic. I was confident that I knew what I wanted, so I was going to work to find that best fit for my last year."

GS: What made you decide on Minnesota for that last year?
BH:
"I would say the biggest thing is the coaching staff and Coach Whalen. I immediately felt like I connected with them, like I knew them before. I think their vision and their foundation and standards that they hold the team and people within the program to is something that aligned with what I was looking for. I'm just really looking forward to growing the program this year and keep improving on the foundation that they've set and continued to instill in the players."

GS: Being a Minnesota native, did you go to Gophers games or camps growing up?
BH:
"Oh yeah. It's kind of surreal being here now, but as a kid I was actually a Court Kid for Coach Whalen's games. I've always been a Gopher fan, been on campus, been to games, so it's kind of full circle that I'm back here now. I'm super excited about it."

GS: Given that history you have, what does it mean to you to wear the Maroon and Gold?
BH:
"It's huge. I think it adds a whole different dynamic for me, just knowing that this is where I'm from and grew up, and my family is just down the street. It's really fun to know that my people are here, and that I can represent the university and my home state. I'm really looking forward to that."

GS: For people who haven't seen you play, how would you describe your game?
BH:
"I would say that my defense is a huge part of my skillset in terms of protecting the basket, altering shots and rebounding. But I can also finish inside and run well. In terms of being a teammate, I think I'm naturally a good communicator and leader, too, within a program.

GS: What have been your initial impressions of your new teammates through summer workouts?
BH:
"The first thing I noticed was the energy. The energy at practices has created an environment that's really fun and also an environment where we can push each other to be better and just grow as a unit. That's something we're really focused on, making progress every day. I would just say fun, energetic, and I've felt like my transition here has been very smooth and that's a credit to the girls and the coaches because they've made me feel super comfortable and helped the other newcomers fit right in."

GS: Have there been any certain teammates that have helped you navigate your way so far?
BH:
"My two roommates are Kayla Mershon and Laura Bagwell Katalinich, so both of them have been super helpful just in getting my acclimated. But all of the girls have been great in terms of answering questions, where to go, who to contact, little things like that, and overall just hanging out outside of the court, too. Everyone is super nice and fun to be around."

GS: As a post player, you're working with new assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller. What have you noticed about her in your workouts?
BH:
"She really brings a positive light to the program. She obviously has a lot of experience, so I'm really looking forward to learning from her as she's been in the Big Ten and knows the ins and outs. Her energy and experience is something that I think a lot of people gravitate toward.

GS: You're going to be wearing No. 35. Does that number hold any special significance for you?
BH:
"Growing up, my parents both loved the number, and that's what I've worn for all my sports."

Off the Court with Bailey
Favorite Food:
Pasta
Favorite TV show: New Girl
Favorite Social Media App: Instagram and TikTok
Favorite WNBA Player: Maya Moore and Liz Cambage
Favorite basketball moment of your career: Winning a Thanksgiving tournament while at Kansas
 

thatjanelpick

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Very strange that Helgren would average 21 minutes but only average two shots per game in those minutes. Kansas is guard-oriented, I guess?
 

Ragnor

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Very strange that Helgren would average 21 minutes but only average two shots per game in those minutes. Kansas is guard-oriented, I guess?
She did say her specialty was defense and rebounding. And it was the defense in particular that was killing us there.
 


MNGirlsHoops

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She did say her specialty was defense and rebounding. And it was the defense in particular that was killing us there.
yes defense killed us last year, but I dont think we are talking about a athletic defender, we are talking tall, so I see a lot of zone when she is in the game, otherwise she would struggle in pick n roll defense
 

Ragnor

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yes defense killed us last year, but I dont think we are talking about a athletic defender, we are talking tall, so I see a lot of zone when she is in the game, otherwise she would struggle in pick n roll defense
I don't see her as imobile as some but she would not be athletic like the Bello's. I agree the priniciple reason is she is tall and was experienced and likely usually in the right place at the right time. So many of the post points scored against us last year were players left wide open under the basket or we were helpless due to lack of size. I don't think we need a lot more scoring inside, a modest increase would be sufficient combined with average interior defense, we will do much better.
 


Ignatius L Hoops

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A little background on Micheaux from a December 2020 article:

When Micheaux first arrived at Wayne Memorial, she did not think she would be on the path to Big Ten basketball.
She said her game “wasn’t the best” when she first arrived, and Mitchell agreed.

“When we first got Alanna, she wasn’t that good," Mitchell said. “She couldn’t catch a ball, she couldn’t dribble to save her life, her shot was god-awful. I’m being honest.

“But Alanna’s the definition of what working hard can be. She wasn’t a big name coming out of middle school. I can guarantee no one knew who she was.”

But through the early development, Micheaux saw the type of player her coach wanted her to become.

“I feel like I saw the potential he saw in me, and it made me want to work harder,” Micheaux said. “And through the process of working harder, it made me really, truly start liking the game and really enjoy playing.”

As a junior, Micheaux, a four-star recruit, averaged 26.4 points, 14 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game and was named first-team All-State and All-Region. Over her first three years with the Zebras, the forward picked up 64 offers.

Minnesota first contacted Micheaux her sophomore year, and became one of her top choices through constant communication, explaining how the forward could make an impact right when she first arrived on campus.

But the recruiting process proved to be stressful for the Wayne Memorial forward, leaning for help as she navigated her decision.

“After I was contacted by a coach or something, I would go back and talk to my parents about it,” Micheaux said. “They would help me write stuff down and figure out if I would be a good fit here and how I could help in school.”

Micheaux felt at home with the Golden Gophers, becoming one of three players in their 2021 recruiting class.

Based on Micheaux’s development from her freshman year to her senior year, Mitchell still has trouble wrapping his head around it.

“I honestly think, when it’s all said and done, she will be a pro,” Mitchell said. “That’s just how much of a hard-working kid she is. It’s insane. Some days I just marvel and shake my head because the kid, she’s an extremely hard worker.

“I believe if there’s any kid in the country that can physically run through a wall, I believe it’s her.”
 



Ignatius L Hoops

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Deja Winters:

Closing out the series, it's Deja Winters, a 5'11 graduate transfer who spent the last two seasons at North Carolina A&T after playing at Seton Hall as a freshman and sophomore. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Winters averaged 12.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals per contest in her career at North Carolina A&T. She shot 39.3 percent from the field, 34.0 percent from 3-point range and 78.6 percent on free throws.

GopherSports.com: What was the process like once you decided to transfer?
Deja Winters:
"I just wanted to keep on playing basketball. I know at one point after leaving (North Carolina) A&T I thought I was done. But I talked to Coach Carly (Thibault-DuDonis), she recruited me when I was in high school and she was at Eastern Michigan so I knew her and felt comfortable coming to a program like this, especially being under Coach Whalen."

GS: So you've known Coach Carly for a little while then. What's your relationship like with her?
DW:
"I remember she came to a high school game of mine with a jersey on with my number on it and everything. So we talked a lot and she always checked up on me, even when I had committed already after that. So I always appreciated that."

GS: When you put your name in the transfer portal, how did you get reacquainted Coach Carly and then what made you decide on Minnesota?
DW:
"She reached out to me. And I just thought it was a good fit, especially for my last year, and again, playing under Coach Whalen, the GOAT, and showing what I have to offer."

GS: Is it safe to assume you were aware of Coach Whalen's success as a player? What about that appeals to you?
DW:
"Yes, of course. Just being coached by someone who's played the game and been through probably everything any kid dreams of being a part of."

GS: For fans who haven't seen you play, how would you describe your game?
DW:
"I like to shoot the ball, but I try to be an all-round type of player."

GS: What were your impressions of your new teammates during summer workouts?
DW:
"I got along with everyone, my roommates (Gadiva Hubbard, Klarke Sconiers, Alexia Smith), my teammates, everybody was very welcoming, as was the coaching staff. It was really a great summer for us, I believe."

GS: How about on the court, how did you think you fit in?
DW:
"We got in and had a few open gyms and practices. They were patient, too, with the all the newcomers, as well. They didn't make it hard all."

GS: Has there been anyone in particular that's helped you in your transition to Minnesota?
DW:
"Really everyone, I don't think I could say it's been one single person. Everybody has helped me out at one point."

GS: Going into your sixth season in your career, what do you think you have to offer from a leadership perspective as a veteran player?
DW:
"For me, I try to lead by example. I'm not the most talkative type, so letting my actions show and then for the younger players giving them encouragement."

GS: You'll be wearing No. 3 here. Is there any significance to that number?
DW:
"I had a few options. I was No. 13 last year, so it was the closest I could get to it."
 




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