Jacki Gemelos claims her dream
How could Jacki Gemelos possibly expect this?
How could she fathom that, after everything that she and her body have been through in the past five years, she would be in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday morning, receiving the news that she would be part of USA Basketball's World University Games roster.
That she would find herself on a very short list of the best young basketball players in the country.
"I didn't even dream that I would get this opportunity again," Gemelos said. "I knew I wanted to play again and I would take it from there. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that, a year from when I got cleared, I would be here, playing with these girls."
Gemelos was the "it" girl of high school girls' basketball back in 2006, the No. 1 prep recruit in the nation out of St. Mary's High in Stockton, Calif. She was averaging 39.2 points a game in her senior season; her game was being compared to that of Diana Taurasi.
College coaches were lining up to recruit her.
And then came the first tear of her anterior cruciate ligament -- commonly known as the ACL, and an injury commonly known as the bane of women's basketball.
That injury began an almost absurd odyssey of disappointment, discouragement and frustration. Gemelos would have five surgeries on four ACL injuries in three years. She tore and rehabilitated the ligaments in both knees, sitting out the first three seasons of a college career at USC that was in serious danger of never starting.
Family and friends wondered why she wouldn't quit. But she refused, wondering not only whether she would get to play but what it would look like when she finally did return.
Gemelos took the court in February 2010, playing her first game in nearly four years at Cal, close to her Northern California home. USC coach Michael Cooper eased her back into the lineup for the remainder of the season.
Last season, Gemelos was a starter for most of the year. She played in 37 games, starting 28. She was the team's third-leading scorer at 12.4 points a game.
But Gemelos said that only this summer has she felt like the player she used to be.
"I've made my biggest strides, how I'm moving on the court my passing is more on key now," Gemelos said. "I mean, you can't really lose your sense for basketball, but for a long time, everything was kind of off. Now everything is coming back. I feel like I'm quicker and stronger and more explosive. I feel like I am getting around my defender now."
USA coach Bill Fennelly said Gemelos' versatility helped to land her a spot on the roster. The team heads to China for the international tournament, which begins Aug. 14.
"She can play the point, the off guard for us; she has a good feel for the game; and she understands her strengths," Fennelly said. "She came here and played well, and her spot is well-earned."
Fennelly said it was his pleasure to deliver the news.
"I think she was stunned and happy and relieved, and you can only imagine what's rushing through her mind after the last few years," Fennelly said. "Her perspective on making this team is going to be very different from anyone else. I told her that she should stand up straight and be very proud of herself because she's accomplished something that few other young people could do.
"This is one of those great stories, one of those things that doesn't happen very often."
Gemelos has one year of athletic eligibility remaining. She is beginning her sixth year at USC and is three classes from completing her master's degree. Her inclusion on this team, with the likes of Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, Stanford's super-sister duo of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, and Tennessee's Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, sets her up well to be a part of the WNBA draft next spring.
But before fulfilling her dream of a pro career, this dream comes first.
"This is a huge confidence booster for me," Gemelos said. "It feels good to be playing with these amazing players, people who contest and hustle and finish and hit shots. It feels great."