***EDIT--CONFIRMED BY MINNESOTA--SHE'S OFFICIALLY LEAVING**
The Minnesota Women's basketball team looked like it had a chance to be a special group next year with Rachel Banham returning for a fifth season and Big Ten Player of the Year Amanda Zahui B returning for her junior season. That will now take a severe hit as the AP is reporting that Zahui B has decided to leave the U after her sophomore season and declare herself eligible for the 2015 WNBA Draft.
The WNBA has much stricter rules on who can declare themselves eligible for the WNBA draft that the NBA has for theirs. Normally, a player coming off of their sophomore season would not be able to leave school early for the WNBA. However, since Zahui B is an international player and will turn 22 during the 2015 WNBA season, she can decide to leave school for the WNBA. If Zahui B was from St. Paul and not Sweden, she would not be eligible. She had until midnight Monday night to make her decision to be eligible for the April 16th draft.
Zahui B was the first ever AP First-Team All-American for the Gophers, and the first All-American of any kind for Minnesota since Janel McCarville in 2005. She was named the Big Ten Player of the Year averaging 18.8 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.1 blocks. Her rebounding numbers were good enough to rank fourth in the nation.
Zahui B is taking advantage of an opportunity to be able to enter herself into what is regarded as a fairly weak WNBA Draft Class. In fact, Zahui B will now most likely be considered for the top overall pick potentially. The Seattle Storm have the first overall pick and are in need of a post player, of which Zahui B now becomes the best available.
Zahui B had the following quote on her decision, “Over the past few years I've learned a lot about making difficult decisions involving my life, education, and future starting with a major move from my home country to the United States. Though challenging, that initial decision has proved to be a step in the right direction. I am most grateful for the University of Minnesota and the Golden Gopher basketball program and athletic department for believing in me and welcoming me as I sought to make something great of my life and grooming my talents further. In two years, the University of Minnesota became home. The coaches, university staff, teammates and community have helped me in many ways; I truly want to thank them all. I will forever be a Gopher and will support their continued success.”
As for the Gophers, it now leaves a HUGE hole in the middle that will not be able to be filled. The Gophers will lose Zahui B and Shae Kelley, their two top forwards from a team that made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009. The return of Banham and the continued rise of Carlie Wagner will help the Gophers on the outside, but with no true rebounding threat currently on the roster, it will be up Gopher coach Marlene Stollings to find some immediate help in the form of a junior college player or senior transfer very soon. If not, even the return of Banham will most likely not be enough to get this team back to the dance in 2016.
If this is the end of Zahui B in a Gopher uniform, it will be disappointing for Gopher fans, but hopefully the start of an excellent professional career for Amanda.