Klarke Sconiers trying to keep it simple, fun with Gophers

Klarke Sconiers has an extensive job description on the Gophers women’s basketball team.

A 6-3 sophomore post from Queens, N.Y., she is currently the starting center for the Gophers. In Wednesday’s season-opening victory over Eastern Illinois — just the second start of her college career — she had 14 points and eight rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end.

This is crucial for a team trying to replace Taiye Bello, one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten the past two seasons.

Sconiers’ first job is defense and rebounding while, as coach Lindsay Whalen says, keeping it simple on the offensive end.

“Her touches, her post opportunities, will come as we get more into the flow of things,” Whalen said.

But there is more.

In her second season, Sconiers is emerging as a leader. She is consistently upbeat in practices, her sense of humor evident. Always in a good mood, her energy is consistently a catalyst. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has caused stress, she works to keep the team together.

“The biggest thing is being here with my teammates,” Sconiers said Saturday, as the Gophers prepared to finish their abbreviated nonconference schedule with a game against Drake at Williams Arena on Sunday. “And even when we weren’t able to be together, checking up on one another, keeping that family atmosphere. People are going through things. One of the biggest things is I bring energy.”

On a team that is still shorthanded, that’s important.

The Gophers played Eastern Illinois with a roster that, because of injury and illness, was limited to seven players. Three of those seven — Justice Ross, Grace Cumming and true freshman Erin Hedman — were playing in their first college game.

It could get a little better Sunday. There is a chance freshman guard Caroline Strande will be available to Whalen, who still hopes to have a full roster available for the Big Ten opener against Michigan State on Wednesday.

For that reason Sconiers has been asked to step up more than most sophomores. Wednesday she was one of three players in double figures along with Kadi Sissoko (24) and Jasmine Powell (21).

She scored her 14 points in 26 minutes, making five of eight shots. Eight of her points came off offensive rebounds — three putbacks and two free throws after rebounding a Gophers miss.

At this point that’s where many of her points will come.

“She is keeping it simple,” Whalen said. “The rebounding is big. To make up for Taiye, we will need her to do that.”

Sconiers said a freshman year practicing against Bello — and watching her play — was valuable.

“Being able to compete against her every day made me better,” Sconiers said.

Sconiers admitted it was a big change going from New York City to the Midwest. When choosing a school, she had the Gophers, Illinois and Auburn in her final three, choosing Minnesota in large part because it’s an urban campus.

She brought her skills as well as a New York approach to Minnesota, which brings us to her final job on the team: Official translator for Whalen. “She teaches me the slang, the new terms that kids use nowadays,” Whalen said. “She’s teaching me all the time. I think for the first two months I coached her she called me, ‘Bro.’ ”

Lately? “Now she calls me, ‘Big Slime,’ ” Whalen said. “That’s one of her slang terms kids use. At first I was like, ‘Let’s just go with Coach.’ But it’s OK. Let’s have fun with it.”

That’s kind of the point, and part of Sconiers’ job.