For the Superior Telegram
In Port Wing, she’s just “Megan.”
On the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Megan Gustafson is a basketball superstar.
“She is a pretty big celebrity down in Iowa, and people will contact her once in a while to visit their children who might be in the local hospital, or to get her autograph, etc.,” said Clendon Gustafson, Megan’s father.
“Also, there are quite a few young Iowa girls who wear the same headband as Megan, and (they) want people to know that they are wearing Megan’s headband style.”
Gustafson’s popularity comes as little surprise. Since joining the Hawkeyes in the 2015-16 season, she has emerged as one of the elite players in the Big Ten.
Already this season, the junior has been named Big Ten Player of the Week six times, tying the Big Ten single-season record (Jantel Lavender, Ohio State, 2010-11).
On the national level, Gustafson led all NCAA Division I players through Jan. 12 in double-doubles (16) and ranked second in field-goal percentage (.688).
The junior center also ranked first in field goals made (150), fourth in total points (386) and total rebounds (214), seventh in points per game (22.7) and rebounds per game (12.6), and eighth in defensive rebounds per game.
Predictably, Gustafson has become the subject of All-American chatter, but she remains focused on the success of Iowa as a team.
In last week’s AP Top 25 Poll, the Hawkeyes came in at No. 18. They checked in at No. 17 in the USA Today poll.
Iowa has defeated several ranked opponents in recent weeks and is 15-3 overall. The Hawkeyes hold a 3-2 record in the Big Ten.
Gustafson has been a key element in Iowa’s strong first half of the season. She has 17 double-doubles in 18 games so far. The only miss was a 9-rebound, 34-point effort against Florida State Nov. 29.
In Saturday’s 76-70 loss to Purdue, Gustafson set a new career best with 37 points on 17-of-23 shooting. Gustafson’s 17 field goals made tied Iowa’s single-game record, and the junior also contributed 14 rebounds in the game.
Gustafson surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season, and already has 796 career rebounds — with a year and a half still left in her college career. By the time she graduates, Gustafson will likely have rewritten large sections of the University of Iowa record
The junior already set single-season records last year in rebounding and double-doubles, and she is poised to improve upon each record mark this season. On the career record lists, Gustafson currently ranks sixth in blocks, ninth in rebounds and 16th in points 1,403.
The career double-double mark already belongs to Gustafson, and her career field-goal percentage (.630) is on pace to eclipse the previous record of .571.
“As parents we hoped when Megan signed with Iowa — which was surreal — that she would see the floor and maybe play a little,” Clendon Gustafson said. “When she made the All Big Ten Freshman team, we were amazed. And last year when she was All Big Ten First Team, we were even more amazed.”
It’s not that Eva and Clendon Gustafson are necessarily surprised by their daughter’s success. After all, Gustafson has risen to the level of her competition — and then continued on — at every step of her career.
As an eighth-grader, Gustafson played with the Cardinal boys because South Shore did not have enough players to make up a girls team. She was the second-leading scorer, and at least one opposing coach complained that Gustafson gave South Shore an unfair advantage. She
was “too rough” in the paint for her male counterparts, the coach said.
In high school, Gustafson faced a new obstacle. She was routinely double-, triple- and even quadruple-teamed. Despite the pressure, she went on to become Wisconsin’s most prolific scorer and rebounder. She is the only player in Wisconsin state girls prep history to score
1,000 points in a season and more than 3,000 in her career.
At the college level, Gustafson accepted yet another new challenge. For almost the first time in her career, she does not tower over her opponents. At 6-foot-3, Gustafson is often shorter than the players she faces off against in the post.
In spite of that, Gustafson has excelled to the point that she is now receiving accolades on a national level. She earned the first national award of her college career Jan. 3 when she was named the Ann Myers Drysdale Women’s National Player of the Week. That award followed her fifth Big Ten Player of the Week honor — when the season was only eight weeks old.
Clendon Gustafson, who coached his daughter when she was younger, said the experience of watching Megan play for the Hawkeyes has been surreal.
“It is incredible to watch on television, when the commentators are saying such nice things about Megan,” he said. “We are thankful for every day and know that this time will pass all too quickly and are enjoying every moment.”
The Hawkeyes return to action Tuesday when they travel to Nebraska.
CARDINAL CONNECTION: Gustafson isn’t the only South Shore graduate with her name in Iowa’s record book. A decade ago, the Carver-Hawkeye Arena record for individual points in a single game was set in a showdown between Wisconsin and Iowa. The star of that game was the Badgers’ Jolene Anderson, who scored 42 points. Anderson, also a former Cardinal, was the Wisconsin prep scoring record holder until Gustafson broke the record in 2015. … Last week Gustafson was named to three watch lists — Wooden Award Midseason Top-25 List, Naismith Trophy Watch List; and Katrina McClain Award Watch List.