MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jacki Gemelos has a sharp 3-point shot and a deft passing touch to offer the Minnesota Lynx as they set the 11-player roster for this season.
Determination might be her best asset.
If five reconstructive knee surgeries over a six-year span haven’t been enough to end her quest to become a WNBA star, well, tough competition to make the team in training camp sure won’t, either.
Drafted in the third round out of USC last season, Gemelos spent 2012 in rehabilitation. Now she’s a 24-year-old trying to prove she’s still good enough to stick with the two-time defending Western Conference champion Lynx.
“They took a chance on me. I’m going to be forever indebted to the coaching staff and the Lynx program,” said Gemelos, who prepped at St. Mary’s in Stockton.
Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen, the veteran All-Star backcourt tandem, are among the eight players who are locks to be on the team. Capable of playing either shooting guard or point guard, the 6-foot Gemelos is in a group of six rookies, then, vying for three roster spots.
“It’s unbelievable to see her come back and get out here and not to play with fear. I’m really happy she has this opportunity,” said teammate Maya Moore, who has known Gemelos through the summer camp circuit and has been a friend for almost 10 years.
Gemelos had a setback the first week of training camp with a quadriceps strain, another exercise in patience and mental challenge. She has shown on the practice court, though, plenty of that ability that made her one of the country’s top recruits out of St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, Calif.
She committed at age 15 to the powerhouse at Connecticut before settling on USC. That promising college career in her home state didn’t get started, however, until more than two months after she turned 22.
She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in her last high school game in March 2006, keeping her freshman experience mostly limited to the athletic training room. In September 2007, she reinjured the right ACL. The left one tore for the first time in October 2008. Eight months after that, she realized her leg didn’t feel right. Doctors determined the surgery didn’t take. So back on the operating table she went.
Finally, in February 2010, she made her debut for the Trojans, playing the final 11 games on the schedule. The following season, she was healthy the whole time, playing in every game and leading the Pac-10 conference with a 42.4 shooting percentage from 3-point range and a 12.4 points-per-game average.
But then in December 2011, nine games into her “senior season,” she tore the left ACL once more. By January 2012, she was good to go again.
“In camp you can clearly see she’s got talent. She’s a tremendous shooter. She’s got good instincts for the game. She plays defense better than we would’ve guessed. But you can still see the rust. She hasn’t played for a while,” said Lynx executive vice president Roger Griffith, who presides over the team’s personnel matters.
Her injury history has added a complicating factor to the evaluation process.
“You don’t want to miss out on something, but on the other hand you’ve got an 11-player roster and you’ve got to build a team for today,” Griffith said. “You’ve got to make the best decision for your team with what you have. Sentiment is what starts to bring a team down.”
There isn’t much that can bring Gemelos, or her family, down. Her father, Steve, overcame prostate cancer. Her mother, Linda, beat breast cancer twice and survived a stroke. Even the family dog had a torn ACL. So as tempting as quitting has been for Gemelos at discouraging times of her rehabs, that’s not in her genes.
“They were the greatest parents and the best family that I could ever ask for,” Gemelos said. “Just saying thank you to them and not throwing in the towel.”
Perspective is of utmost importance in this.
“People have way bigger issues than I do. That’s what I have to keep in mind. I’m not fighting cancer. I didn’t get in a huge accident and paralyzed or anything like that, knock on wood. I just have knee problems.”
Whenever her basketball career ends, Gemelos has goals of staying in sports, as an agent or scout or working in sales or marketing. There’s no rush to explore that further, though. For now, there’s a team to make.
“It’s kind of remolded who I am as a basketball player, but it’s who I am and it’s what I have to just go with,” Gemelos said of her knee surgeries. “It’s unique. I know it’s a good story. It’s inspiring for a lot of people. So I’m all for it.”