By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In all my years of covering Iowa Hawkeye athletics, which dates back to 1992, Megan Gustafson’s sustained dominance over the past two seasons ranks as the greatest individual achievement I’ve witnessed by a UI male or female student-athlete.
And that’s saying a lot, considering some of the other candidates such as former Iowa football players Brad Banks, Robert Gallery, Sedrick Shaw, Tavian Banks, Tim Dwight, Shonn Greene, Brandon Scherff, Josey Jewell, Desmond King and Josh Jackson; former Iowa men’s basketball players Acie Earl, Reggie Evans and Andre Woolridge; former Iowa women’s basketball players Tangela Smith, Toni Foster and Samantha Logic; former Iowa wrestlers Lincoln McIlravy and Joe Williams; former Iowa track and field sprinter and long jumper Anthuan Maybank; former Iowa field hockey player Kristy Gleason, former Iowa baseball player Jake Adams and former softball pitcher Debbie Bilboa among a few others.
All of them achieved greatness for at least one season, but not to the level of which Gustafson has achieved over the past two seasons, while combining for 58 double-doubles in scoring and rebounding, including 30 this season.
The 6-foot-3 Gustafson had probably her greatest individual performance with 45 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s 90-76 victory Maryland in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament. She made 17-of-24 field-goal attempts, while facing double and triple teams, and 11-of-14 free-throw attempts.
Those numbers, in addition to being staggering, also came against one of the best teams in the country in a game with a conference title on the line.
"I wanted to put everything into this game, I didn't care how tired I was," Gustafson said. "My teammates put everything into it and we had belief at the beginning all the way to the end."
Gustafson's performance in the Big Ten Tournament was even more proof of why she deserves to be named the National Player of Year.
As good as Gustafson has been this season while leading the country in both scoring and field-goal percentage, she was almost as dominant last season when she also led the country in both scoring and field-goal percentage.
The Port Wing, Wis., native has actually averaged a double-double in scoring and rebounding in each of the past three seasons while shooting no worse than 64.7 percent from the field.
Gustafson has made double-doubles look routine when that is hardly the case. She has made the improbable seem probable over the past two seasons, and has sustained a level of dominance, consistency and efficiency that sets her apart from every other UI student-athlete during my time on the beat.
You could make a strong case for Gustafson ranking among the greatest UI individual performers of all time. But I’m only going to back to 1992, so that would exclude the legendary Nile Kinnick, quarterbacks Randy Duncan and Chuck Long, men's basketball players Sam Williams, John Johnson, Fred Brown and Ronnie Lester, and all of the wrestlers from the 1970s and 1980s.
I might go as far as to rank Gustafson second behind Kinnick on the all-time list because Kinnick’s 1939 Heisman Trophy winning season was truly spectacular and made an impact beyond just sports.
As for who would be ranked second behind Gustafson since 1992, I’d go with Brad Banks, who went from being Iowa’s backup quarterback in 2001 to the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2002, followed by McIlravy and Williams, both of whom won three NCAA titles while at Iowa, and Jake Adams and Shonn Greene.
A strong case could made for both McIlravy and Williams, but in my opinion, it is more difficult to sustain dominance in a team sport than an individual sport.
The beauty with this kind of debate is that there is no right or wrong because it’s totally subjective and based solely on opinion.
The only downside to Gustafson’s dominance is that it’s almost over with the NCAA Tournament all that remains for her.
My hope is that Iowa fans will show up in large numbers to watch Gustafson and her teammates play in the NCAA Tournament because they deserve the support.
Iowa will almost certainly host the first two rounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and this Iowa team deserves a packed arena for being successful on the court and classy off it.
Gustafson has reached the status of living legend, but she is hardly a solo act, and she would be the first to say that. Fellow seniors Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart also have played key roles, as has All-Big Ten junior guard Kathleen Doyle.
Lisa Bluder and the Iowa assistant coaches also deserve credit for Gustafson’s rise to stardom because it wouldn’t have happened without their guidance, compassion and wisdom.
So much has gone into making Gustafson a superstar, including her incredible durability. She takes a pounding night in and night out and just keeps coming with grit and composure.
It has been a privilege to watch Megan Gustafson perform at a level that we probably won’t ever see again.
I just wish it could last longer, although, I’m sure Iowa’s opponents would have a different opinion.