Megan Gustafson stepped out on to the floor for just under ten minutes last Thursday to record the first four points and three rebounds of her professional career in the Dallas Wings’ win over the Phoenix Mercury.
It was a triumph on a road to the WNBA that hasn’t been easy for the 2019 Naismith Player of the Year, who left the Iowa Hawkeyes as the program’s leading scorer.
A week before her debut, she received the call to rejoin the Wings after being among the last to be cut the day before the season began. Gustafson said she never stopped working to improve her game, even after being waived. She was thrilled to be invited back, and promised to take full advantage of the second opportunity.
“They were really short on numbers, and luckily I was at camp so I knew the system, and they had me on their radar so I am just very thankful and blessed that I am here,” she said.
During her time away, Gustafson said she worked on her outside jump shot and power forward skills. At 6-3, she is undersized to be a center in the WNBA, but she was dominant in that position as a college player.
In her first game as a pro, she found herself going against one of the best fives in the league in 6-9 Brittney Griner. But Gustafson showed she was not afraid to compete against the best, and at one point in the fourth quarter she was caught in an almost-headlock by the Mercury’s seven-year veteran, as both went for a rebound.
“That was interesting,” Gustafson said post-game. “I’m just excited to be out there and being able to play on the floor. I’m going to battle as hard as I possibly can every second I am out there.”
Dallas has had several roster challenges this month. Veteran Glory Johnson left for Eurobasket last weekend, and will be gone about three weeks. Tayler Hill is awaiting knee surgery, Isabelle Harrison is still out with a concussion, and Skylar Diggins-Smith hasn’t returned yet from maternity leave.
The team is off to a 2-6 start, with both wins coming from a strong defensive effort.
Johnson already has confidence in Gustafson, and said she is a good finisher that pulls boards.
“She doesn’t back down to challenges, if you need her to be physical she is physical, if you need her to sprint the floor she’ll sprint the floor,” Johnson said. “She is a very good athletic player that can finish.”
After being cut, Gustafson began preparing to play in The Basketball Tournament with Iowa United. TBT is a $2 million dollar winner-take-all summer basketball tournament that is set to begin July 19. Gustafson is still listed on the Iowa United roster, but she said her involvement in the tournament is to be determined.
“My full focus, priority is on this team right now and hopefully I am still on this team by then and I am just honored to be here right now,” Gustafson said.
The rookie has chronicled her journey from draft day to training camp, and now WNBA fans will get to see how Gustafson will fare as a pro in her second trial with the Dallas Wings. The team is 2-1 since her re-signing, and she said it has felt good to contribute.
“You have to be on your best game defensively, you know there are some really great players out there,” she said. “So my goal going into it was just to be able to guard who I was guarding and be able to really get stops.”
“Rebounding is really important too, and that’s something that I’ve prided myself on in the past. Just getting those extra possessions for our team is what I also try to focus on.”
Gustafson will continue to write about her experiences as a professional through her faith-based blog. And her strong beliefs, it appears, paid dividends.
She got a tattoo of the Bible verse Phillippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,” and she said that not even one hour after she got home, she received the call to return to Dallas.
“I had no idea at that point that I was going to be there, so I think that’s a sign,” Gustafson said. “It’s my favorite Bible verse, so it was pretty cool.”