A talent infusion is hitting the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball program with the addition of two five-star recruits: guard Alexia Smith and forward Kadi Sissoko.

Sissoko is a 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore, Paris native and transfer from Syracuse in the 2018 recruiting class, and Smith is a 5-foot-8 true freshman guard from Columbus, Ohio, in the 2020 class. Together, they could help head coach Lindsay Whalen in a breakthrough third season.

After the Gophers’ first official practice on Wednesday, Whalen, who has a 37-26 record at Minnesota praised that pair but was careful not to go overboard.

“I think (Sissoko) can have a huge impact not only on our team but on the conference,” Whalen said. “I have to measure my expectations and I have to remember that she hasn’t played in two years, and so she is working and she is getting there. She is a great kid, great team locker-room person, so that has been fun just to see her grow into that as well.”

Sissoko overcame a knee injury early in her freshman year to average 3.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 9.6 minutes in 22 games for the Orange in 2018-19. Whalen mentioned that Sissoko wasn’t able to practice much due to severe COVID-19 lockdowns in France last spring.

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Smith, Whalen said, “is strong, sturdy, someone that can handle the ball at” point guard or shooting guard.

“She is now just getting acclimated a little bit to the speed of the game at this level,” the coach added. “But she is someone who is going to be in the rotation and someone that is going to have an opportunity to have an impact on the team, as well.”

While the Gophers are patient with Sissoko and Smith, they will count on sophomore guards Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia of Stillwater, as well as senior guard Gadiva Hubbard.

Powell gave her impressions of Sissoko and Smith. “I really think that Kadi’s length is going to be great for us. Alexia is really fast, as well. She is a great on-ball defender. … Driving is both of their best suits. Being able to help us in fast breaks and everything is going to be big for us.”

Despite uncertainty cast on the season by coronavirus, Whalen praised the commitment Powell and Scalia showed with their fitness.

“It just shows their dedication and commitment,” she said. “… You are happy they are on your team because they are two of the players that can help lead, now, the freshman class and some transfers coming in. I think it goes to show how much they love the game, how much they want to make a mark here. They want to have legendary careers here. They want to leave a legacy. Those are two players that want that.”

Whalen’s second season was sidetracked by the suspension and transfer of leading scorer Destiny Pitts. The Gophers finished 15-16.

“That was a year filled with a lot of adversity,” said Whalen, who went to the Final Four as a player at Minnesota and then won four WNBA championships with the Lynx. “Everywhere I’ve been before (and) won, there has been adversity. I look back and it was definitely a situation that I feel badly about. I never want to have that happen again.”

Whalen said her two seasons as a coach gives her a better understanding of what needs to be done with six newcomers this season.

“You have been through it a couple of times now,” she said. “You have a little better grasp of what is going on, and although it’s a pandemic, everybody is going through it. … I feel really energized.”