Megan Gustafson’s WNBA journey continues with another new stop in Phoenix

Phoenix Mercury’s Megan Gustafson (10) plays defense during a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

ARLINGTON, Texas — If Megan Gustafson’s first three-plus seasons in the WNBA have been defined by anything, it’s been change.

A second-round pick of Dallas in 2019, the highly-decorated former Iowa Hawkeye who starred in Iowa City between 2015 and 2019, played with the Wings in 2019 and 2020 before Dallas waived her in May 2021.

Gustafson’s next stop was Washington, where she signed in June 2021 before being waived a week later. After then signing three 7-day contracts with the Mystics, in August 2021 she was inked for the rest of the season.

She remained in Washington through this spring when she was waived on April 28.

The ex-Hawkeye great landed in Phoenix in early May and earned a spot on their opening night roster. Through 18 games with the Mercury, she’s averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

“It’s been good,” Gustafson said of her time in Phoenix. “Obviously, it was a whirlwind being in Washington’s training camp and then getting picked up two days before final rosters were announced.

“I just went into it knowing I needed to fight and compete because I didn’t know if I was going to make the final roster. But the coaches liked what they saw and I’m thankful to be here. It’s been kind of crazy, being thrown into the fire, but this is my fourth year in the league. A lot of the systems are similar. That helps with the adjustment as well.”

In Phoenix, she now plays alongside Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi, considered two of the WNBA’s top stars.

“It makes my job easier just to have those types of leaders on my team,” Gustafson said. “D and Sky, they’re great at welcoming you into the system and helping you out when you have questions. Even in the game, too, they’re telling you things like to do this or that when you’re going up for a screen. They see the game so well. I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Although Gustafson now considers herself a veteran, the biggest change she sees in herself is she now understands the mental side of the WNBA much better.

“The most important thing is to be open to adjustments and go with the flow,” she said. “There’s a lot of things you cannot control in the league, whether it’s salary cap, all that business-side stuff. You can’t control that as a player.

“Even if you perform really well in training camp, they might not have space for you. Being able to roll with it, take the punches and always staying ready, staying in shape even when you’re off the team by trying to get game reps wherever you can, it’s so important. That was important for me.”

After her rookie season, Gustafson saw her No. 10 raised to the rafters at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a special ceremony on Jan. 26, 2020. Even while playing abroad, she is prominent on social media, usually wearing Iowa gear, cheering on her alma mater no matter the time difference.

But seeing her number retired was something she’ll never forget.

“It was incredible. The University of Iowa is so special to me. For them to retire my number, I was able to be there for the ceremony, which was just incredible,” Gustafson said. “There were over 13,000 fans there. I love that program, the trajectory of where they’re going with Caitlin (Clark) coming in and them finally getting on the map. I was just proud to be able to be a part of that.”

And it was interesting seeing No. 10 retired because in her early days at South Shore High School in Port Wing, Wis., wearing that number wasn’t even on her radar.

“Honestly, when I first got it, I was a freshman in high school. For some reason in volleyball, I wanted No. 8 but a senior had it,” Gustafson said. “The only number left was 10, so I just took it. Now I love it. It’s really significant to me.

“When I came into the league, I was No. 13 as a rookie because 10 was taken (in Dallas). Then, I was able to switch (back) to No. 10. Anytime I can get 10, I’ll take it.”

As much as her WNBA career has been characterized by change, her past two seasons abroad have both been spent in Poland, which has been a neat experience because her mother is part Polish. Poland always will be special to Gustafson because that’s where she got her beloved corgi, Pancake, who travels everywhere with her, has her own Twitter feed with more than 1,000 followers and a strong presence on Instagram.

Phoenix Mercury’s Megan Gustafson (10) puts up a shot during a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

“Everyone loves her. I’ve always loved corgis since I was little, so it’s a dream come true getting one,” Gustafson said. “It’s just nice to have a travel companion, especially being a professional athlete, there’s a lot of pressure on you to perform. You’re halfway across the world one night and then somewhere else the other. It’s just really nice to have that constant in my life.”

On June 18, Gustafson and the Mercury played in Dallas, her second time returning to the arena she once called home. Returning to where her WNBA career started is always a big positive.

“I’ll always love this organization. They drafted me and this was my first taste of the WNBA,” she said. “It’s fun to be back, see everybody again and rekindle those connections.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.

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