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'This is not anything new for me': Megan Gustafson finding her old roots post-All-Star break

Hayden Cilley Avatar
July 28, 2023

On Tuesday, Phoenix Mercury center Megan Gustafson took a trip down memory lane. Against the Atlanta Dream, she dropped 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1 assist in 22 minutes off the bench. Fans and her alma mater said this was a long time coming. Mercury head coach Nikki Blue thought the same. In fact, Blue knew that Gustafson was capable of a performance like that.

“We’ve always known that Meg could score the ball pretty well,” Blue said after Tuesday’s game. “She’s earned a shot to get more minutes and we are extremely proud of her for just getting her opportunities and making the most of it. Hopefully the rest of the season, she can continue to put out good efforts.”

Opportunity comes in any way

For Gustafson, she’s waited patiently for the opportunity to show her skills on a WNBA court. After averaging 20.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game through her four years at the University of Iowa, the talent was there. When going to the WNBA though, that dominance often changes. Players are asked to take a backseat in order to win games and ultimately hoist the WNBA championship trophy. As Gustafson described, her success is about knowing her role and what is expected, each and every game.

“I think I’m able to watch what’s going on right away when the game starts and I’m able to kind of see what’s missing, what I need to bring when I come into the game,” Gustafson said. “A lot of times, my role is to bring energy and to give us extra possessions, doing the dirty work, cleaning up the boards, whatever it is.

“Doing the super little details correctly, whether it’s setting a good screen for my guards to get open, rolling to the basket so then they’re able to either get me down low or hit somebody else. So just really paying attention to detail and I’ve really tried to do that all the time. Now I’m able to get some consistent minutes and so I’m able to get a little bit more of a flow.”

The former Iowa standout led the Mercury in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots in Tuesday’s 78-65 loss. Fans often forget that Gustafson won the 2019 Naismith Trophy with the Hawkeyes. She got drafted by the Dallas Wings, then made stops in Washington D.C. and now in Phoenix.

Overseas play helped regain Megan Gustafson’s roots

However, much of the work takes place overseas. As a matter of fact, Gustafson showed out in the 2023 FIBA Women’s EuroLeague. She averaged a league-best 22.6 points per game and was top-five in field goal percentage, rebounds and double-doubles. She also won her first EuroLeague championship with the Greek team, Olympiacos. On Thursday, Gustafson mentioned the confidence has when playing in the EuroLeague.

“Well, I know a lot of times when I go overseas, they want me more inside the paint,” Gustafson said. “That is my comfort zone, I love it. Just getting back to my roots, back to my Iowa mentality is a lot of fun and I’m finally bringing it here again, which has been really fun.

“At the same time, there’s also room for improvement. Working on my 3-point shot, working on off the dribble stuff, pick-and-rolls, whatever it is. Just trying to elevate my game in all areas and then just stay confident overseas is a very high level as well. So, you have to stay confident, and I mean, with an increased skill-set.”

Experience into leadership

That increased confidence from Gustafson helped Mercury rookie Kadi Sissoko find her footing in the league. During Thursday’s media availability, she mentioned the impact Gustafson has had on her career so far.

“It’s really nice,” Sissoko said. “I spend a lot of time with Megan outside of basketball and she’s given me a lot of advice. It’s easy when you lose a lot to just give up, but Megan was locked in every day. She deserves everything, she works really hard, before and after practices. It’s been great to see her success.”

People can routinely see Gustafson and Sissoko hyping each other up, along with giving pointers on the basketball court. Once Sissoko was drafted, the Wisconsin native took pride in mentoring the young rookie when she came to Phoenix.

“I know a lot about how hard it is to be in the W,” Gustafson said. “I’ve been in and out of teams. Being a rookie, it’s really hard, it’s not easy. So just trying to help her out whenever I can, just give her a point of view that it’s a tough business, but she’s done a wonderful job of handling the ups and downs. If there’s something that I see that she needs help with, I’ll just pull her aside and be like, ‘Hey, maybe look at this, do that,’ and she does a great job of responding and staying ready. I’m just excited to be able to mentor her.”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

So far, Gustafson is averaging career-highs in nearly every statistical category this season — minutes played, points, blocks, field goal attempts, 3-point attempts, free-throw attempts and free-throw makes.

Unlike some of the bigs today, Gustafson’s game is very traditional. She works best down in the low post, with drop-steps, hook shots, as well as up-and-unders. Unlike last season, she’s learning from one of the best post-up bigs in the WNBA in Brittney Griner. After Tuesday’s loss, Gustafson mentioned how the post-up players aren’t going away any time soon.

“A lot of people say that with post players, it’s a dying game…it’s not,” Gustafson said. “I can definitely say that it’s really fun to be able to have confidence in my abilities. I know BG obviously has amazing abilities and being able to watch and learn from her. Also, the guards are confident in us right now. So we just gotta keep that up, keep it going and just trust in our abilities. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time. This is not anything new for me. Just no one’s been able to see it until recently.”

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