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Megan Gustafson has gone from seven-day contracts to a WNBA starter

/ by Tyler Byrum
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Injuries prompted the Washington Mystics to sign center Megan Gustafson back in June and, after proving herself in limited playing time, injuries vaulted her into the starting lineup.

On Tuesday, Gustafson was named the starter for the first time in her professional career. On her second team in three seasons, it was the biggest opportunity that she's been presented in the WNBA.

"It's obviously really exciting for me," Gustafson said following her start. "I've been working really, really hard behind the scenes, a lot of people don't see that but I've just tried to stay ready, try to bring energy, and I really just wanted to go into it just like any other game."

Gustafson was one of the few - if any - bright spots in what head coach Mike Thibault called an "embarrassing" loss by 34 points to the Seattle Storm. She scored the third-most points on the team with 12 behind Shavonte Zellous and Ariel Atkins. She also set a new career-high and it was the first time she reached double figures while playing in Washington. 

While being entrusted as a starter, most of her minutes came in garbage time. That's where most of her points came as well. Still, her 6-for-9 shooting performance is welcomed for a team that has struggled to find offense consistently outside of Tina Charles. She also added eight of the team's 24 rebounds.

Besides, her role isn't to score points for the Mystics to be successful. It's to provide the spark.

 

"Coach brought me in to bring energy whenever I go into the game, and so this time it was just he wanted that energy right away," Gustafson said. "So I'm just gonna keep bringing that no matter what and just try to help out whatever my team needs."

Gustafson found out the day prior that she was moving into the starting lineup. With the team playing without both Charles and Elena Delle Donne for a series of games, that gave Gustafson - who had the fewest minutes played on the roster - opportunity. There were some modest performances in her games with the Mystics. None were bigger than her seven points and seven rebounds against the Lynx the game prior.

Even with Charles back, that was enough to move Gustafson in the lineup.

It culminates quite the season for the former Iowa Hawkeye. She was waived by Dallas, who drafted her 17th overall in 2019, at the beginning of the season. For the first month of the season, she was out of work. Three seven-day contracts later, she was signed for the remainder of the season on Aug. 25.

There's no telling if Gustafson is going to be a mainstay in the starting lineup. Ideally, Delle Donne is ready to go when the team returns to D.C. and Myisha Hines-Allen and Theresa Plaisance get healthier. But it's huge for Gustafson as she navigates her way through a WNBA career.

In a league that only has 144 roster spots, competition is tight for the final positions on teams. If there's no promise shown earlier in one's career, a team doesn't have the time to wait and develop their draft picks for multiple seasons.

Fortunately for Gustafson, she was prepared to come to a new team when the Mystics injuries had pilled up.

"I think the most important thing for players like me, especially when maybe you've been in and out of the league, is just to stay ready," Gustafson said when she was signed in June. "Because your name is going to be called sooner or later, especially with all the injuries that happen unfortunately it's part of the business but that means, you know people like me have to step up and try to fill those spots."

The injuries haven't gone away for Washington, but it's at least giving Gustafson a fair shot to show her value on a WNBA court.