Iowa Women's Basketball

Megan Gustafson returns to Iowa for jersey retirement, but first, No. 19 Hawkeyes host Michigan State

Come for the game Sunday, then stay for the ceremony

Megan Gustafson celebrates late in last season's NCAA tournament women's basketball win over North Carolina State. Gusta
Megan Gustafson celebrates late in last season’s NCAA tournament women’s basketball win over North Carolina State. Gustafson returns to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday for the Hawkeyes’ game against Michigan State. Tipoff is 3 p.m., then Gustafson’s jersey will be formally retired afterward. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — For Monika Czinano, the presence of Megan Gustafson was an immediate culture shock.

“I came from a (high-school) conference in which the next tallest girl was 5-11,” Czinano said. “Then I come here, and Megan was already the Big Ten player of the year.

“I knew everything was going to be different.”

Gustafson had that impact on friends and foes alike. The humble girl from tiny Port Wing, Wis. — an unincorporated village on the shore of Lake Superior — came to the University of Iowa in the fall of 2015. She left as the most decorated player in program history, the 2019 consensus national player of the year.

She returns to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Sunday’s highly anticipated jersey-retirement ceremony, which will follow the women’s basketball game between 19th-ranked Iowa (16-3, 7-1) and Michigan State (11-8, 4-4). Tipoff is 3 p.m.

As of Friday afternoon, nearly 11,000 tickets had been sold.

“I’m so excited to be back,” Gustafson said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s been 4 1/2 months since I’ve been in America.

“It’s going to be so special, seeing the girls, being at Carver.”

Gustafson, 23, is spending the winter in Budapest, Hungary, playing for a team called NKE-Csata. The team is in the Hungary “A” Division for the first time, and was tied for second place in the league with a 12-3 record before Saturday’s game.

Gustafson will play in that game Saturday, then arrive at The Eastern Iowa Airport in the evening. She’ll head back to Budapest on Monday.

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She will become the second women’s basketball player in Iowa history to have her number retired. Michelle Edwards was the first.

The game is different in Europe, and so is Gustafson’s role.

“We only play once a week, and practice twice a day,” she said. “I still post up and finish, but I’m involved in a lot of pick-and-rolls, and I step out and shoot more.”

Gustafson is averaging 16.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. She still is remarkably efficient, shooting 74.4 percent from the field. She has shot 20 3-pointers, making five.

She also has lost 10 pounds from her playing weight at Iowa, down to about 190.

“I wanted to be more mobile (with the WNBA’s Dallas Wings last summer). I wanted to be quicker,” she said. “I eat healthier now. We don’t have the access to treatments I had at Iowa, so it’s me taking care of myself.”

Gustafson led the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten tournament crown and the NCAA tournament Elite Eight last season. Surprisingly, this team has a better record through 19 games than last year’s club.

“I’m so proud of them,” Gustafson said. “A lot of people thought they wouldn’t be so special, but they still have Kathleen (Doyle) and Makenzie (Meyer). The culture and the chemistry stayed the same.”

A big key to this team has been the development of Czinano, a sophomore who has gone from Gustafson’s understudy to one of the Big Ten’s premier posts.

“Last year was unbelievable learning from Megan,” Czinano said. “She’s my role model, my friend. She didn’t need to be as humble and as nice to me as she was.

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“I know how hard she works at everything. Her post moves weren’t insanely crafty, but the intensity she attacks them with, that’s what makes her so good.”

Gustafson’s WNBA future is up in the air. Since she was cut and called back last season by Dallas, she is a free agent.

“I’d like to come back to Dallas next season,” she said. “But I just want to be in the league.”

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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