WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert: It’s more than just a weight room
The WNBA commissioner speaks out on the NCAA weight room and what it represents.
Haley Gorecki is used to waiting. After opening her freshman season on the bench, she started for the first time in the ninth game of the season, only to go 0-for-6 against UMass. Five games later, she suffered a season-ending hip injury.
Over the summer, she experienced a setback, and she waited out the entire 2016-17 season on the sideline. Returning in 2017-18, Gorecki flourished as a sharp-shooter, notching a career-best 42.3% from behind the arc, but this season was once again cut short by another injury to the hip. And the waiting continued.
Her second return from injury, in 2018-19, marked one of the best individual seasons in Duke history. Gorecki averaged 17.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.6 steals while starting all 30 contests and tying the program single-season record with 36.0 minutes per game. But Duke, after making the NCAA tournament in 2017 and 2018 when Gorecki was sidelined with hip injuries, missed out in 2019. So Gorecki waited for a shot in her fourth year of eligibility, as a graduate student.
Once again, Gorecki impressed. She was named to the All-ACC first team and defensive team. AP recognized her as Honorable Mention All-America and she was one of five finalists for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award as the top shooting guard in the nation. The stats speak for themselves, but the wins against Florida State and NC State down the stretch left many with the impression that Duke might sneak into the tournament.
Haley Gorecki for ACC Player of the Year: pic.twitter.com/oVmb0m0Oq6— Duke Women’s Basketball (@DukeWBB) March 1, 2020
Gorecki played 40 minutes and scored at least 20 points in both those games, including the final four against Florida State and the final five against NC State. Of course, instead of waiting for her team’s name to be called on selection Monday, Gorecki is waiting for a tournament bracket that will never be released, much less played.
“Obviously, that would have been my first tournament to play in, which was special to me,” Gorecki told Just Women’s Sports. “The way it ended, there was no closure in a sense. It was just sad.”
Nevertheless, Gorecki could look forward to the WNBA draft. Universally, Gorecki was viewed as a prospect, but there was little unanimity on where she might end up.
“I got a lot of phone calls from coaches in the WNBA who expressed interest in drafting me, so that helped to calm my nerves,” Gorecki said. “It made me feel a lot better knowing that I was being looked at as a prospect in the draft and that there was potential for me to be selected.”
Still, not knowing where she would be selected, Gorecki was antsy until draft day. Even then, she was left waiting.
“From talking to coaches, my name was always mentioned in the second round, early second round,” Gorecki said. “It was never in the third. When all of the names were being called, I kept thinking, ‘Okay, where’s my name?’”
With the 31st pick, the Seattle Storm drafted Gorecki. Even Storm head coach Dan Hughes thought Gorecki would be taken sooner, as his staff projected an alternate team to snatch her in the second round.
“Finally, my name popped up and I was relieved,” Gorecki recalled. “It’s funny because Seattle’s coach was actually the last coach I spoke with and now that’s where I’m headed. It all ended up working out in the end.”
As a third round pick and a rookie, nothing is guaranteed for Gorecki. The roster of 15 will need to be culled down to 12 spots.
“First and foremost, I want to make the team,” Gorecki said. “Then, I want to learn as much as I can because you never know how the team is going to be next year. Trades happen, people retire, things change. I want to learn from the people that have been playing in the league for the longest.”
That would be Sue Bird. The 39 year old guard and oldest active player is coming off a lost season due to a left knee surgery. Without her or 2018 League and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart for the 2019 season, the Storm were unable to defend their title. Still, Seattle was a playoff team last season, and the return of Stewart and Bird makes a crowded roster even more tight.
“Being in Seattle, I’ll be learning from the best. Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart — so many legends are on that team,” Gorecki said. “I’m excited to be a sponge and take in their experience and their advice. The coach is great. The organization is awesome. I’m ready to learn and compete.”
The guard position is especially packed. Last year, Jordin Canada emerged as a rising star averaging 9.8 points and 5.2 assists per game, good for third and first on the team, respectively. Former first overall pick Jewell Loyd made her second All-Star appearance and finished second on the team in scoring. Sami Whitcomb can play at the two, and last year was sixth on the team in scoring and third in assists. On top of it all, Bird is coming back.
Gorecki will face steep competition in training camp, whenever it starts. It is indisputable, however, that she will bring a lot to Seattle. Last year, her 166 made free throws were ninth in the college game, and at an efficient 85.6%. Her 554 points were 38th in the country.
“Haley is one of the most productive players in America in the college game,” Hughes said. “She has good size… she gets to the foul line about as well as any player in college basketball a year ago and she has high skill. With all that skill, there’s a toughness about her that was very, very attractive.”
Gorecki’s final college game, an ACC tournament quarterfinal loss to Boston College, epitomized her tenure in blue. She collected 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and a steal. She hit a three-pointer in her 17th straight contest and went 8-for-8 at the foul line. The game has also marked the beginning of her wait.
“There’s no definitive answer for when this is all going to start,” she said. “It’s all still up in the air and nobody has an answer.”
Until then she will, as always, stay ready. With her trainer over Zoom, Gorecki has been lifting, doing core and band work, and working on ball handling.
“You never know when they are going to say, ‘Okay, it’s time to come to training camp.’”
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