Dallas Wings' Megan Gustafson keeps proving her value in the WNBA
2020: a year of change, consistency and... Corgi
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Dallas Wings forward Megan Gustafson (13) at the free throw line during the WNBA game between the Dallas Wings and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 14, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss
Megan Gustafson had just finished a tough practice with the Dallas Wings in the WNBA’s Florida Bubble.
Tired and slightly winded, the 6’3 forward/center was nonetheless pumped and full of excitement and energy as she prepared to talk Wings, Bubble life, social justice, her beloved Corgi, Pancake, and relishing the opportunity to once again prove she belongs in the WNBA.
“I was excited to be able to sign with the Wings again. I was able to get pretty comfortable with them last year because I was with them for most of the season,” Gustafson said. "It just shows the confidence they have in me. They saw a lot of improvement from me when I was with them last year so just to have that go-ahead from them was really nice. It motivated me to really work hard this off-season, especially during quarantine.”
Gustafson knows how difficult it is to have a career in any professional league and gladly adjusted her skill set to ensure long-term success in the WNBA.
Not that the potential wasn’t already there.
She was selected 17th overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft following one of the most decorated careers in college basketball history. She was a consensus All-American, the Lisa Leslie Award winner as the nation’s top center and the fourth woman in NCAA history to score 1,000 points in a season.
The Wisconsin native earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors in each of her last two seasons, when she led the nation in points per game as both a junior (25.7) and senior (27.8). She is also just the second women’s basketball player in Iowa history to have her jersey retired, joining Michelle Edwards, who graduated in 1988.
Despite these storied, collegiate accomplishments, after being drafted by the Wings, she was cut when rosters were finalized; then brought back a couple of months later as injuries mounted on the team. She played overseas in Budapest after the 2019 season and was there in preparation for her second WNBA season when the organization signed her to a multi-year contract. Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit.
“To not have a training camp was hard because I wanted to go in there and reiterate their belief in me, but it turns out they believed in me anyway so that gave me more confidence,” Gustafson said.
During quarantine she did workouts with Wings Assistant Coach Bryce Agler, focusing on her perimeter skills and outside shooting with an eye toward showcasing both this season.
“My preparation this year is definitely different since I am way more comfortable and I know my role,” she explained. “I have really been working hard on my perimeter skills, and looking to get my teammates open.
“I have a lot more confidence in my abilities and am excited to have a bigger role this year, along with helping the new rookies out.”
Gustafson, who played the classic 5 spot at Iowa and excelled, realizes the league has shifted in that position and is not exactly built for women her size anymore, but has adjusted accordingly.
“The league has really evolved into more mobile and versatile posts instead of your traditional 5. I think for me, just being open to relearning the game has been the biggest difference maker,” she confided “Additionally, just getting in the gym and being willing to do whatever it takes to improve and adapt.”
That said, Gustafson pays homage to her foundation as a post player in college and the skills she developed.
“I do think my base as a post player in college and what I was able to do helps me as well. I am very good at that inside stuff, I just have really been working on becoming more well-rounded, so eventually years down the road I will be able to do it all, and it will become second nature.”
Life in the Wubble
In spite of early reports of trouble in the bubble with unsanitary conditions and social media videos going viral, Gustafson said life in the bubble has been “pretty good. It’s been a couple of things on social media that’s not been the ideal situation but as far as my experience and Dallas’, it’s been very positive. We all have good living arrangements, meals, covid testing it’s all good.”
To keep Wings fans abreast of all the comings and goings in Florida, Gustafson extended her existing “She’s Got Faith” Blog to include a peek inside the Bubble.
“I’ve been pretty busy during quarantine getting ready for this season and I haven’t been as active on my blog,” said Gustafson, who has also started working on her MBA online from Iowa.
“I really wanted to show everyone what’s going on in the Bubble. It’s kind of a unique opportunity that no one has ever really done before so I thought it would be a cool perspective to shine a light on what’s going on here as well as shining on my faith and how it’s going to work here.”
Fans of Gustafson’s social media pages can also keep up with her beloved Corgi, Pancake, who has captured not just her owner’s heart, but social media fans’ hearts as well.
The Rise of Pancake
Gustafson got Pancake, who turned 1 on May 26, while she was playing overseas. “During one of my off days I took a bus to Poland and then flew back with her to Budapest all in that one day. I was researching Corgis for sale forever, and originally I wanted a younger one but then I heard about her and once I saw her photos I couldn’t resist! Plus an older puppy was better for traveling anyway.”
Gustafson began posting pictures of her beloved “Panny” and soon, followers would leave comments asking about her. This helped lead to the creation of Pancakes’ own social media page!
Megan Gustafson and Pancake Gustafson. (Photo courtesy of Megan Gustafson.)
“I decided to create a social media for her because everyone at Iowa knew how much I loved Corgis, and, well she is just a ham and is very cute so I thought why not?” the proud dog-mom exclaimed. “She is the perfect travel companion and is probably the chillest, sweetest dog you will ever find. I just love her to death.”
Pancake is not in the Bubble but safe at home in Wisconsin with Gustafson’s parents. Follow her at @TheWNBACorgi on Twitter.
The New Look Dallas Wings: Ready to Make Some Noise?
When asked if she thinks the new look Dallas Wings can “make some noise” this season, without hesitation Gustafson responds: “I think so. Obviously it’s a shortened season but I’m really excited about our group.”
“We’re really young, we know that, people keep telling us that but we don’t care. We’re going to use that youth to our advantage and we’re going to work really hard every day,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have really good positive attitudes and a fresh outlook. That’s another advantage we have.
“Yeah, we’re young, but we have new faces that are really willing to learn and to grow together, including myself.”
Gustafson said even though she’s embarking upon her second year, “I try to feel like we are all rookies going into this bubble. I think we have a lot of talent. There’s obviously going to be growing pains as there always are with younger teams, but I think we are willing to work through those and I think we’re going to surprise some people for sure.”
Social Justice and the Wings
Like other professional sports teams, the Wings unveiled a social justice campaign to help support the country’s social justice reforms. Their’s features #IAM T-shirts designed by player Isabelle Harrison, with proceeds from sale of the T-shirts going to BlackLivesMatter organizations.
Gustafson chose to complete her hashtag with “Listening.”
“I picked that one because a lot of times people are on social media and always trying to say something — but someone in my position, as a white person, I can’t even begin to understand what some people are going through.
“And so I think just to be able to be an open ear for someone if they need someone to listen to them, to understand them, and just use that to educate myself on social justice maters is important.”
Gustafson said it’s important to her to be the best support she can be during these unprecedented times.
“It’s just been a crazy time for a lot of people; 2020 has not been off to a great start. I just want to continue to be a positive influence to other people and use my faith to just encourage people that there is good in the world,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see that right now, especially with all the social injustice that is going on. But I just want to keep on encouraging people to just keep their heads high and find the good in any kind of situation if they can and encourage those around you that are struggling right now.”
While she continues to prepare for the upcoming season, Gustafson — who serves on the team’s social justice committee — said she will continue to ensure her light keeps shining.
“I’m going to try to keep being a part of the change. I just want to be someone people can lean on in this time of need.”