Megan Gustafson has been here before.
Overlooked and underappreciated, she heads to training camp with the WNBA's Dallas Wings needing to prove herself all over again despite winning several NCAA Division I national player-of-the-year awards.
It's akin to the situation Gustafson faced coming out of tiny South Shore in Port Wing. The thinking went something like this: Dominating small-school opponents as a prep phenom is one thing, but wait until she gets to the Big Ten.
At Iowa, Gustafson proceeded to rewrite the Hawkeyes' record book over four seasons that were nothing short of spectacular.
Well, sure, but pro basketball is a different beast.
Keep doubting the 6-foot-3 double-double machine. She doesn't mind.
"My whole career, people have tended to underestimate me a little bit," Gustafson said during a recent phone interview. "And, honestly, I kind of like that position."
After setting a state record by scoring 3,229 points in high school - improbably, the old mark belonged to another South Shore sensation, Jolene Anderson - Gustafson headed south to Iowa City and was so brilliant for the Hawkeyes that they've already announced nobody will wear Gustafson's No. 10 jersey. It'll be retired next season.
Not bad for the affable daughter of a coach, who had college classes that were three or four times bigger than the entire population of her hometown.
Gustafson averaged 27.8 points in 2018-19 to repeat as the nation's leading scorer, plus 13.4 rebounds for an Iowa team that won 29 games and a Big Ten tournament title - thanks, in part, to Gustafson's 45-point explosion vs. Maryland in the final. The Hawkeyes advanced to the Elite Eight, where they fell 85-53 to eventual national champ Baylor.
Then Gustafson's schedule got really crazy.
She attended the Final Four in Tampa, Fla., where Gustafson was named Associated Press Player of the Year and winner of the Naismith Trophy. Subsequent stops included New York City for the WNBA draft and Los Angeles for the College Basketball Awards, among others.
To the casual observer, Gustafson's selection in the second round of the draft, No. 17 overall, seemed a curious case of talent evaluating. She likely was dinged for her height - while Gustafson isn't short, she isn't tall by pro basketball standards, either - but it didn't stop the two-time All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year from making 70 percent of her field-goal attempts this past season.
Against Baylor's 6-7 Kalani Brown, who was drafted seventh overall, Gustafson recorded 23 points and nine rebounds.
"What a great player Gustafson is," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said that night.
"I think that answered some questions," said her dad, Clendon, who coaches basketball at South Shore.
Clendon said his daughter is more than capable of expanding her game and playing outside the paint. She had to do that some in high school as opposing defenses did everything they could to keep the ball out of her hands. Gustafson is a strong ballhandler and she's quick, not just for her size but in general.
Plus, she can shoot. In fact, she made 50 percent of her 3-point attempts in college. Worth noting: She only hoisted two 3s.
"She's an excellent outside shooter," Clendon said. "The world hasn't seen it yet."
Gustafson wasn't deflated as she watched the April 10 draft. Her agent predicted the exact spot Gustafson would come off the board. So it wasn't a complete surprise.
"I think I did everything that I could have," Gustafson said when asked what more she could have accomplished to improve her stock. "Honestly, I'm so happy where I am with Dallas. I'm just excited to contribute in any way that I can."
She leaves behind a massive void with the Hawkeyes.
"(Megan's) the best player in the country," Iowa guard Makenzie Meyer told the Daily Iowan following the season-ending loss to the Bears. "It's amazing to have played with her, but people don't realize the type of person she is off the court. One of the best teammates I've ever played with, so unselfish, so hard working. We're going to miss her."
Gustafson heads to Dallas on Thursday and will return to Iowa City on May 11 to graduate. She double-majored in marketing and finance, with a minor in psychology. The Wings, who with their first pick in the draft nabbed another former Wisconsin prep star in Arike Ogunbowale, have a new coach in Brian Agler. He started in the WNBA as head coach and general manager of the expansion Minnesota Lynx in 1999.
As she prepares to begin a new chapter, Gustafson isn't taking anything for granted. She had a similar mindset four years ago, knowing that her senior per-game averages of nearly 40 points and 20 rebounds for the Cardinals carried little weight at Iowa. She'll have to earn her way onto the floor in Dallas.
"I still have to make the roster," Gustafson said.
It's all pretty heady stuff for the small-town girl, who was dribbling a basketball while still in diapers. Gustafson had more Division I scholarship offers (14) than students in her 2015 South Shore graduating class (11).
Her talent was undeniable. So pronounced was it that coaches would have found her at South Shore or the North Pole.
"It doesn't really matter where you come from," Gustafson said. "I think that's almost motivated me more than anything, to kind of break through those barriers of, 'Oh, well, you come from a small-town background, so that means you can't do anything.'
"Well I don't believe that for a second. As long as you have a great support system around you, helping you out every step of the way, you can do whatever you want."
Big numbers in the Big Ten
Some of the numbers Megan Gustafson produced over four seasons at Iowa are staggering. A few of the more noteworthy:
• For the second consecutive year, she led the nation in scoring (27.8 ppg), field-goal percentage (69.6 percent) and double-doubles (33) in 2018-19
• Set single-season Big Ten records for points (1,001), rebounds (481), field-goal percentage, field goals made (412) and double-doubles
• Her 412 field goals are an NCAA record, and her 33 double-doubles tied an NCAA record
• Only three other players in the history of Division I women's basketball have reached 1,000 points in a season
• Totaled 2,804 career points and 1,460 rebounds
• Became the first Big Ten women's basketball player to be named Associated Press Player of the Year and winner of the Naismith Award
• Named Big Ten player of the week 13 out of 17 times this past season