Passion, work ethic buoying Megan Gustafson's stock ahead of WNBA draft

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s a tight turnaround from season-ending buzzer to the WNBA Draft — more so than any other major American collegiate sport. When Megan Gustafson’s name gets announced Wednesday night, Iowa’s offseason will be barely a week old.

Cram a lot of traveling and national recognition in between, and that small window shrinks even more. But Gustafson isn’t complaining. She’s a lock Wednesday night to become the Hawkeyes’ first WNBA draft pick since Samantha Logic in 2015.

“I love the game of basketball,” Gustafson told HawkCentral last week. “Right now, my body is going to allow me to keep playing. I’m going to keep playing basketball as long as I can.”  

Iowa center Megan Gustafson (10) warms up before a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game on Sunday, March 3, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Recent mock drafts mostly have Gustafson landing somewhere late in the 12-pick first round. ESPN has the Iowa standout going No. 12 overall to the defending champion Seattle Storm. DraftSite.com’s latest projection has Gustafson going No. 10 to the Washington Mystics. High Post Hoops sends her to the Connecticut Sun at No. 9.

Regardless of destination, one prevailing theme exists with Gustafson’s stock: Although no one expects her collegiate success to flawlessly translate, the work ethic and dedication she has displayed will make her a valuable player at the professional level.

“The thing I like about Megan the most is how coachable and how competitive she is,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve, who picks sixth. “That gives her a chance to possibly do well at the next level.”

In rewriting the Iowa record books, Gustafson’s humble personality shone through as much as her on-court dominance.

Stats speak for themselves — the nation’s best scoring average (27.8) and field-goal percentage (69.6) are a microcosm of Gustafson’s prowess — but it was her every-day demeanor that accentuated the success.

“Just loves the game and a great teammate,” said New York Liberty coach Katie Smith, who picks second Wednesday. “Somebody who's going to show up for you every day — whether it's game or practice — and I know she'll be hungry to try to make a spot. Where she fits, that's the question. But she's got a shot because she's worked her tail off.”

Gustafson doesn’t tower over opposing posts the way Baylor’s Kalani Brown or Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan do at 6-foot-7. That will generate concerns for some teams. Combatting a slew of height mismatches will be Gustafson immediate challenge.

“Only being 6-foot-3 and doing what she does I think is probably where we kind of go, ‘OK, where does she fit in? Is she a center or is she a power forward?’” Reeve said. “She's very aware she's going to have to step away from the basket. We've seen her do that a little bit; be able to play from the foul line.

“But I think if you look at a player that's passionate for the game and has a work ethic, there's a chance she could improve in those areas that really make her a viable pick.”

After the draft festivities in New York, Gustafson will head to Los Angeles for Friday’s Wooden Award presentation. Then it’s back to Iowa City for a bit before training camp opens on May 5. The WNBA regular season begins May 24.

Sprinkled atop that hectic itinerary is wrapping up graduation requirements. But Gustafson wouldn’t have it any other way. This chaos is welcomed.

“My focus right now is obviously to finish up my degree,” Gustafson said, “but it’s been a dream of mine to be able to be a professional basketball player.”

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.