By Scott Mammoser
The odds were against Megan Gustafson to be playing in the WNBA at this point of the season. Sure, the 6-foot-3 forward was the NCAA National Player of the Year to culminate a record-breaking career at the University of Iowa, but she slid to 17th in the draft and the Dallas Wings cut her prior to opening day. The Wings brought her back a month later, where she is trying to prove herself amongst critics who say her game is not suited for the WNBA.
Gustafson scored more than 2,800 points at Iowa, mostly as a traditional post center, playing against smaller competition in the Big Ten. The WNBA depends more on a fast-paced style of play, where she needs to step out of the paint more frequently. Following the final roster decisions in May, there was an outpouring of support for Gustafson from the basketball community, plus from fans in Iowa City, where the Port Wing, Wis., native was beloved for four seasons.
“It was great to have that support behind me,” Gustafson said. “That was tough to get cut in one of the final two that were cut from the team the night before the home opener. I think that was important to get me through those couple of weeks, when I was out of the league, waiting to get that call. So many people reached out to me, whether it was social media, or when I got home, being around family. Everyone was super supportive, and that gave me confidence.”
After missing the team’s first six games, Gustafson debuted on June 20 at home against Phoenix. She has been averaging about nine minutes, with three points and two rebounds, with a high of 11 points twice, one coming in a 27-minute outing versus the Liberty.
“I think right now, it’s brining energy off the bench,” Gustafson added of her role with Dallas. “Obviously, I am young yet, and I am learning and developing every single day. I work really hard in practices, and I see a lot of improvement in myself. Whenever I get out there, I am going to work as hard as I possibly can, and that’s kind of my role right now. I’m going to be the best teammate I can possibly be, and that’s a fun role in and out of itself.”
Gustafson has also been open of her Christian faith, something that her peers admire.
“I think she’s really strong in her faith, and I am too,” added Sophie Cunningham, a rookie with the Phoenix Mercury and formerly of the University of Missouri. “You have to rely on it a lot during your rookie season, it’s full of ups and downs, and you just have to keep working hard and stay consistent. Props to her, and I just like how she’s into her faith. A lot of people look into that.”
This winter, the next stop for Gustafson will be Budapest, Hungary, with the team NKE-Csata. Although she said she has traveled to Italy in the past, this will be her first time in Hungary.
“It will be my first year overseas,” Gustafson said. “I love traveling, and to experience a different culture will be really cool. I think I can really take what I’ve learned this summer. I really developed my face-up game and my three-point shot quite a bit, and I can take that overseas. I can still get back to my post moves, because I know that it’s a little more post-oriented overseas.”
It was shocking for many to see a National Player of the Year not make a roster in a professional league, but the Wings made the right move in bringing her back to the team. It seems as if the fan favorite keeps working hard, she will have a place in the WNBA for years to come.