By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — New coaches at major conference programs often inherit struggling or talent-deficient teams.
That won't be the case for Marlene Stollings at Minnesota.
"The cupboard is not bare, and that's exciting for me to come into a program with the amount of talent that exists here," Stollings said at Tuesday's introductory news conference at Williams Arena, the place she pledged to make "the toughest environment in the nation" for visiting teams facing the Gophers.
"I think we can move up the ladder and accomplish great things in a short amount of time. It's not something that we have to wait a number of years for."
Stollings, who spent the last two seasons at VCU, will have a pair of ready-made stars in guard Rachel Banham and center Amanda Zahui B. Banham led the conference in scoring, and Big Ten Freshman of the Year award winner Zahui B was the top rebounder in the league. The Gophers also have an incoming recruiting class highlighted by guard Carlie Wagner, the all-time leading high school scorer in the state.
At VCU, Stollings guided the Rams from an 11-19 record her first season to 22-10 and a spot in the WNIT. She branded their style of play "Fury" — described on the VCU website as high-powered, high-scoring, relentless, disciplined and fun. The Gophers perked up when they began to hear about the details.
"I love that she's offensive-minded, because I think we all know that I love offense," Banham said. "So I'm just excited to see and go forward with everything."
With a thin bench, the Gophers didn't run the fast break as much as they wanted for since-fired coach Pam Borton's last of 12 years with the program. Banham, like many of her teammates, grew close to Borton and her staff. But after five straight absences from the NCAA tournament, a switch became inevitable.
"I was blessed to have them as my coaches, but I'm also super excited for the opportunity for something different," Banham said. "Change is really hard, but it's also really exciting and something new so I'm ready just to get it rolling."
Stollings agreed to a six-year contract that will pay $425,000 in her first season and grant an annual increase by $17,500, or no less than 5 percent of her $350,000 base salary. The deal also contains incentives ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 for various academic goals and on-court achievements.
"We believe coach Stollings will lead a dynamic Big Ten program for the years to come," athletic director Norwood Teague said.
The Gophers reached the Final Four 10 years ago behind large, loud crowds that came to watch star Lindsay Whalen and her teammates. The interest level from the public has dropped way off since then, but Stollings expressed confidence it can come back quickly. Playing a fast pace won't hurt.
"If you just run in transition you can score so much more. It's just more exciting for people to watch and to play in," Banham said.
Keeping the state's top players at home, like Banham and Wagner, will help even more.
"Without giving away all of our secrets, I will tell you that it's about relationships, connecting with people, building a rapport and making sure that you massage that over time," Stollings said, "and our staff will be committed to doing so."