Gearlds Heading Home for WNBA Debut
Two months ago, Katie Gearlds experienced one of the highlights of her college career at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, helping lead her Purdue team to the Big Ten Championship. Now, after finishing her college career, being drafted and traveling across the country to join the Seattle Storm, Gearlds is preparing to return in her professional debut - Saturday's preseason opener against the Indiana Fever.
"I couldn't have asked for a better situation," Gearlds said after Thursday's practice, the Storm's last in Seattle before traveling to Indiana. "To see the people I love and play in an arena I'm comfortable in and make my professional debut. To play in front of family and friends, to look at our numbers and see that I'm going to get some minutes - to say the least. It's a great opportunity."
"I know we don't get in until kinda late," said Gearlds, "so it just depends on how I feel if I see everyone Friday night or see if we can go grab a quick bite to eat downtown. My house is like 10 minutes away, so if I need a home-cooked meal from my mom the night before I leave, I'm sure it will get taken care of."
For the fans back home, Gearlds' return is big news. A postgame autograph session has been scheduled by the Fever, promoting Gearlds' appearance to sell the game. There's even been talk of a "Katie Gearlds Day" locally.
It doesn't hurt that, as she alluded, Gearlds will see plenty of action. With guard Tanisha Wright expected to miss the game with a pulled groin, Gearlds will likely start at point guard - without another player with experience at the point on the roster.
Gearlds laughed when asked about reaction back home to the news she would be the Storm's starting point guard for now.
"That was kind of their reaction - a little chuckle," she said. "No, I've played the point before - obviously not at this level. I played it a little in college - backup minutes, spot minutes when they needed me. With the numbers, it's a situation where I'm embracing the challenge. Hopefully, I will learn from it and get better from it."
Immediately, Gearlds will be tested by former Storm guard Tully Bevilaqua, a WNBA All-Defensive First Team pick the last two seasons. Aware of Bevilaqua's defensive prowess, Gearlds hopes to use her size (she's 6-1, while Bevilaqua goes 5-7) and learn from the experience.
"I'm going to have my hands full," said Gearlds. "To run the point against somebody like Tully, that's a great learning experience. It's a great chance for me to step back and learn from my mistakes and build on my positives too. I'm sure I'll make mistakes and my head will be down for a minute, but it will have to go right back up."
Gearlds estimates she attended about five to 10 Fever games over the years, including one last year when fellow Purdue alumnus Katie Douglas came to town with Connecticut. Now she'll be playing against not only her hometown team but also former teammate Erin Lawless, who was invited to training camp by Indiana after going undrafted last month. Lawless has had an impressive camp and is bidding for a spot on the team.
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"We talked about the irony of us competing together for four years and then our first pro game is going to be against one another. I'm looking forward to seeing her and definitely battling up against her."
"Katie and I have had some great memories on this court," Lawless told FeverBasketball.com. "It's going to be interesting to see how it goes. Iím excited about the opportunity to play against her."
Her professional debut will be just the latest in a number of memorable moments at Conseco for Gearlds, including the most recent Big Ten Championship. Purdue won another Big Ten Tournament at Conseco during Gearlds' freshman season. Even before that, Gearlds' Beech Grove team earned a historic state championship at Conseco during her senior year of high school.
"My senior year of high school was my school's first championship in any team sport," she explained, "so to be able to be a part of that was something really special."
In its own way, Saturday's game promises to be something special as well.