Brianna Banks has seen more losses this season than she had in her entire college career before she arrived at Penn State.
While at Connecticut, she was a member of two national championship teams as the Huskies went 108-9 over the past three seasons.
The transfer, who is sitting out a season per NCAA rules, has watched her new teammates go 4-15 and lose eight straight before knocking off Indiana 79-75 Thursday.
Does she regret her decision to leave Storrs, Conn., for University Park?
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“I feel like it was the best decision for me from Day 1,” said Banks, who will be cheering on her teammates at 2 p.m. today against Northwestern at the Bryce Jordan Center. “Every day it gets better and it reminds me why I’m here. I enjoy being here.”
And Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington is glad she’s here.
Banks has made an impact on the practice floor, a place where she can participate.
The 5-foot-9 left-hander stands out during workouts, whether she’s playing with her teammates or along with the practice team.
“She’s fantastic,” Washington said. “She’s an ultra-competitive kid. When we’re in the gym and she’s playing with us or against us, the intensity level certainly is very high. Her competitiveness, her intensity just adds a lot to the practice environment.”
“I’m enjoying myself,” Banks said. “I’m trying to stay focused in school and come out here in practice and help my teammates out. I just try to help them get better in practice every day, while they help me get better every day. We are all in this together because we are one team, even if I am not playing.”
Banks says she has always been super competitive, no matter what she’s doing.
“I hate losing no matter what I’m playing — basketball, pool, checkers,” Banks said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m out to win every time.”
And that’s what has made watching her teammates struggle so hard to watch. The Lady Lions are on pace to have the worst season in program history.
“It sucks so bad because all you can do is encourage them,” Banks said. “ When you see them struggling, you want to do nothing but help. It just sucks so bad that you can only practice and not produce.”
Banks has shown she can produce at an elite level. She averaged 7.3 points in 17.1 minutes before her sophomore season at Connecticut was cut short by an injury.
Washington said the Lady Lions don’t often bring up Banks’ years and success at Connecticut.
“I look at her impact as what she brings to practice this year,” Washington said. “The competitiveness, the intensity and focus that she plays with it certainly rubs off on our team and also on some of the young players with how hard you have to work and how competitive you have to be every day. I think that’s helped us continue to grow as our season has gone on.”
And Banks sees her teammates making progress. That tempers the losing somewhat.
“It’s crazy in a way that it’s not something I’m used to,” she said of losing. “They’re young and I understand as to why we are where we are right now. ... Winning is something you work hard for. As long as we’re working hard and making progress every day, then I’m satisfied.”
Banks says she enjoys hanging out with her teammates off the floor and feels like she fits in perfectly with the group.
“Surprisingly, we are all so much alike,” she said. “It’s great how Co recruits because you can tell that she recruits players who all have the same personality and the same goals. It’s very rare that we clash or have a disagreement.”
Banks admits her biggest problem with Penn State is finding her way around.
“The campus is still kind of big,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t know where all of the buildings are, but I’m getting there. I know where my classes are — and the food.”
The latter is very important — at least one spot. You can often find Banks chowing down at one particular spot in the HUB-Robeson Center.
“I’m a huge Chik-fil-A eater,” Banks said. “I love Chick-fil-A. That’s the main reason I came here outside of basketball. I love Chick-fil-A so I indulge in it. I just had it a couple of hours ago, actually.”
“Bri has like eight percent body fat so she’s allowed,” chimed in senior Tori Waldner, when overhearing Banks.
Banks can’t wait until she puts that sculpted body on the floor. Until then, she’ll continue to cheer and practice hard.
“They are really starting to get the competitive spirit,” she said of her teammates.
The Lady Lions (1-7 Big Ten) will face a stiff test against Northwestern (14-4, 4-3).
While Penn State has started seven different lineups this season, Joe McKeown has gone with the same five every game.
Led by Nia Coffey (14.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg), that starting five has been consistent and willing to share the ball. The Wildcats are 11th in the country, averaging 17.7 assists per game.
As a team, they’re shooting 45 percent, including 34 percent from 3-point range. Maggie Lyon is the biggest deep threat, having made 48 3-pointers on 44 percent shooting.
Historically, Penn State has handled the Wildcats. The Lady Lions lead the all-time series 33-7 and have won eight straight, including both games last season.
Notes: Penn State is 18-1 at home against the Wildcats. ... Deary has 62 of Northwestern’s 205 steals. ... The Wildcats have blocked 111 shots this season. ... Northwestern has won seven times on the road this season. ... Lyon is three points shy of 1,000 for her career.