ARLINGTON, Texas — Megan Gustafson wasted little time in experiencing her “welcome to the WNBA moment,” an annual ritual for any rookie.
It came in her regular-season debut June 20 against Phoenix, when she had four points and three rebounds in 10 minutes.
“I got a rebound against Brittney Griner and she actually head-locked me,” Gustafson, 22, said. “I drew a foul. That was kind of like ‘oh, welcome to the league, Megan.’”
Of course, University of Iowa fans remember her as the two-time Big Ten Conference Women’s Player of the Year who was the 17th pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. However, Gustafson did not make the Wings' opening night roster in May, but was re-signed by the team in June, leading to her league debut several weeks ago against the Mercury.
Heading into the weekend, she was averaging 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds through seven games, getting nine minutes per game. And despite seeing limited action thus far, she really can’t complain about her early tenure in the WNBA.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty good. I think it’s great being able to play in this league,” Gustafson said. “Obviously, there’s been some ups and some downs, but I've just got to keep on working as hard as I can every single day.
“I know this isn’t guaranteed. Nothing really is in life, so I’m going to take my chance that I have and keep working hard.”
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She’s only been in Texas for a short time, but already has embraced the Dallas-Fort Worth area because of how many fun things there are to do. One thing she isn’t looking forward to is the long, hot summers the DFW area is known for.
However, one pleasant surprise thus far has been the number of Hawkeye shirts she’s seen in the stands for home games at College Park Center on the campus of the University of Texas Arlington.
At a July 5 loss to Indiana, almost an entire row of fans were wearing the trademark black-and-gold of the Hawkeyes, a welcome sight for this Iowa product.
“It’s so cool. I never know when they’re coming,” Gustafson said. “I didn’t even know there was going to be any Iowa fans (here). It just goes to show the wonderful support I had at Iowa. Hawk fans are everywhere and they love their school. It’s just really cool to have that support all over the world.”
Her four seasons in Iowa City were filled with success on both an individual and a team level. But Gustafson knew making the jump to the professional ranks would be a big transition, a leap she feels like she was well prepared for.
“I think in college everyone was really good, but here everyone’s superstars, so just being ready for that every single day (is big),” she said. “Defensively, that’s something that I can always improve on. I’ve seen improvement from myself game-to-game, but I've just got to keep working on dealing with that physicality of that next level.
“I expected it to be harder (here), obviously and I expected it to be a level up. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of battling in there as hard as I possibly can. I've just got to keep working on extending my range. I’ve been working on that a lot lately, so I’m excited to really implement that coming up here.”
As a rookie in most pro sports, that means it’s time to pay dues, which usually involve rites of passage like singing on cue, carrying bags or fetching coffee or snacks for teammates. However, Gustafson is happy to say she’s experienced none of that with the Wings and that includes being spared from having to lug around the dreaded pink backpack, a staple of the NBA.
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And like many of her teammates, once the WNBA season concludes in the fall, she will venture abroad to play. She recently signed to play her first winter as a professional in Hungary, an experience the well-traveled ex-Hawkeye looks forward to.
“I think just a new culture and a new experience (is what I’m most excited about),” Gustafson said. “I love to travel. I’ve been abroad a couple times and I’m just really excited to be able to immerse myself totally in a new culture and obviously a new team. I’m really excited for that, too.”
Regardless of whether she’s roaming the hardwood stateside in the WNBA or in Europe, one thing which never changes with Gustafson is the immense pride she feels every time she hits the floor, that feeling of knowing she is representing the Hawkeyes.
“Yeah, it’s really important,” she said. “I’m very proud of where I come from. The University of Iowa’s been so good to me. Obviously, I miss them but this is my next step now, my next journey. I’m thankful that I’m really just able to focus on what I have now and here in Dallas, but at the same time I’m always going to represent the University of Iowa.”