Lynx welcome Whalen back to her Minnesota home

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Lindsay Whalen is home again, and the Minnesota Lynx are giving her an eager welcome.

They've got a lot of work for her to do, too.

Whalen was formally introduced at a news conference on Wednesday at Target Center, where the Lynx are hoping fans will gather in greater numbers than ever in the team's unspectacular history to watch the smooth shooting and passing flair from this tough-minded former Gophers star.

"I'm just thrilled to be back," Whalen said. "It's just cool to see that people still are excited, and care."

The Lynx now have an All-Star player at every position, making this Whalen addition just as important to the roster as to the ticket office.

"As excited as I am to come here," she said, "this is a basketball move and that's what I'm most excited about."

The Lynx have never won a playoff series, qualifying for the postseason only twice in 11 tries.

"You don't want to put too-high expectations on yourself, but you play better when there are expectations," Whalen said. "We all expect a lot. As far like a championship or things like that, I think that's in everyone's minds, but we have to go out there and earn it and prove it."

Drafted by the Connecticut Sun in 2004 and acquired in an offseason trade, Whalen finally has her chance to play professionally in her home state after a program-changing college career at Minnesota.

And the Lynx finally have an opportunity to market this popular All-Star point guard who was named Sportsperson of the Year by both Twin Cities newspapers in 2004 after guiding the Gophers to the Final Four. She was picked ahead of NBA MVP Kevin Garnett and Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

"Now that we have this, I don't think we're ever letting go," Lynx executive vice president Roger Griffith said.

"Thanks," Whalen said, smiling slightly with the same kind of unassuming demeanor shown by another Minnesota-grown sports star, Twins catcher Joe Mauer.

The Lynx started training camp on Sunday, and Whalen will join her new team on the court for practice this weekend. The native of Hutchinson, a small town just west of the Minneapolis area, was finishing her commitment to her pro team in Prague in the Czech Republic, where she has played the last three winters.

Between Connecticut and the Czech Republic, plus previous playing experience in Russia, Whalen hasn't spent much time in Minnesota since she left school.

"It's a little, like, surreal," Whalen said.

When she was a freshman for the Gophers, crowds were sparse, around 1,000 per game. By the time she was a senior, the team's average attendance soared to close to 10,000.

The Lynx reported a per-game crowd of 7,537 last season, a bit below the WNBA average, though on many nights the actual number of fans in the arena was lower than that. The team's single-game attendance record is 16,227, in 2004 when Whalen played her first WNBA game here with the Sun.

"It's going to take some time to build," chief operating officer Conrad Smith said.

The Lynx are constantly fighting for attention in an area crowded with sports teams and potential fans also choose to be outdoors in the summer. Smith said he's confident the Whalen-led Lynx can create enough of a buzz to build a stronger following.

"People are going indoors. They go to movies. They go to the theater. They go to plays. They go to restaurants," Smith said. "I hear it a lot, but I think what people want is to be entertained. What's new? What's different? I think we're an entertainment option. I just think Lindsay helps make us more elevated."

Gophers coach Pam Borton was at the news conference for support.

"For the Lynx to bring a homegrown girl back to the Twin Cities was just the right thing to do from a basketball standpoint, number one, not just because she's from Minnesota," Borton said. "She's one of the best point guards in the world, and you can build your franchise around her."