Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Iowa Women's Basketball

Megan Gustafson prepares for The Basketball Tournament with new 'fire' after getting cut from WNBA

Naismith winner plays in men's tournament in July

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson hugs associate head coach Jan Jensen as she comes out of the game late in the fourth quarter of their Sweet 16 Greensboro regional game against North Carolina State at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday, March 30, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa forward Megan Gustafson hugs associate head coach Jan Jensen as she comes out of the game late in the fourth quarter of their Sweet 16 Greensboro regional game against North Carolina State at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday, March 30, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A few days after getting cut from the WNBA’s Dallas Wings two days before the start of the season, Megan Gustafson ran across the beach in Port Wing, Wis., in an attempt to answer one question.

“What will happen next?”

The former Iowa women’s basketball standout listened to music and was “talking to God,” still in shock after going from Naismith Award winner to not making a WNBA roster in an eight-week span. She told herself she needed to trust God’s plan.

Two minutes later she got a text from another former Iowa basketball player, Nicholas Baer, with a solution to that question: playing in the The Basketball Tournament. Baer’s team wanted to her to join Iowa United.

The answer was an easy yes. She said it was “exactly what needed to happen.”

Gustafson will be the first active professional women’s basketball player to compete in The Basketball Tournament, or TBT, a basketball tournament in July and August for current and former professional athletes with a $2 million prize.

Since TBT started in 2014, 15 women have participated in the tournament, but Gustafson is the first active player to do so. She doesn’t put too much pressure on herself, though.

“It’s cool to be a woman in this tournament, but at the same time, I think of myself as a basketball player,” Gustafson said. “And I think of the men as basketball players.”

As a member of Iowa United, she’ll compete on a team mostly composed of alumni from Iowa, Iowa State and Drake.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Iowa United has not qualified yet for the tournament, but TBT founder Jon Mugar said he’s confident Gustafson’s team will make it in the field. TBT will announce the full bracket Tuesday. Alumni teams from Marquette, Wichita State and Kansas State already have been officially accepted into the Wichita region.

Admittedly a bit undersized in the Big Ten at 6-foot-3, Gustafson said she’s planning on playing a small forward role in TBT. She has aspirations to be able to dunk soon.

She said she’ll use the first few practices with Iowa United to adjust to the different height and speed of the game. She worked with Baer on the student-athlete advisory committee at Iowa and had two years of overlap in Iowa City with Peter Jok, but she doesn’t know any of the other players.

“Megan’s a fierce competitor,” Baer said. “It’ll be really nice to have an opportunity to compete with her on the basketball court.”

Mugar has seen interest in TBT spike since Gustafson announced she’s participating in the tournament.

“This is year six (of TBT), and I can’t remember seeing as much positive, immediate excitement,” Mugar said. “Everyone is really eager to see her play.”

As she prepares for TBT — she’s started a blog and wants to get into boxing — the WNBA still is clearly on her radar.

“Frankly I think I should be playing in the WNBA,” Gustafson said. “I know I’m good enough. ... There were some good days, there were some bad days, but at the end of the day, I know I should be there.”

She still dwells on not making the cut for the Wings’ roster. She thought she had a spot.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“There’s been tough days,” Gustafson said. “Just about every day, I wake up, and I’m thinking, ‘Why am I not playing out my dream?’”

If she gets a contract offer during the tournament, she’ll take it. Otherwise she’ll likely play overseas in September.

Reality in the WNBA has been far from life in Iowa City, where she’s been a local celebrity. At an Olive Garden in Coralville, a line quickly formed of people wanting to talk to her and take pictures. Her lease ends in July, but she has embraced Iowa City as her home and said she wants to be a lifelong Iowan.

Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen told Gustafson the WNBA cut makes her “a little more relatable now,” providing her a reality check.

Now TBT gives her a chance to prove the Wings wrong. She said her mentality has a “fire” she never had before.

Playing against male competition is nothing new to her. When she was in eighth grade at South Shore Middle School, there weren’t enough girls interested in basketball to have a team, so she played on the boys’ team. She distinctly remembers the looks her eighth-grade team got when opponents first saw her team had girls on it.

“They’d take one look at us, and they wouldn’t think much of us,” Gustafson said.

Now about 700 miles away from that beach in Port Wing and nine years after those middle school basketball games, she has a chance to surprise more of her opponents.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“(Opponents) are going to look at that roster and they’re probably going to underestimate me,” Gustafson said. “It’ll be fun to have that (underdog) position again.”

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.