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Gemelos has overcome a lot to get to Sun

Jacki Gemelos has a side hustle away from the basketball court, “Overcome,” her own line of clothing and other swag.

“I love fashion,” Gemelos said. “I love to create. I love vibrant, colorful colors. I love shoes. I love tattoos.”

Most of the items Gemelos sells have a positive message. “Breakdowns = Breakthroughs.” “Bet on Yourself.” “Perseverance.” “Overcome.”

Gemelos isn’t just selling a bunch of encouraging affirmations. She’s had to live them.

Gemelos was one of the most highly recruited players among the nation’s high school Class of 2006. Then she tore her right ACL during a playoff game that season and needed surgery.

It was the first of five reconstructive knee surgeries in six years.

All that promise, all of Gemelos’ hoop dreams, kept getting stomped on. Her family and friends finally started to implore her to quit.

She wouldn’t quit. She couldn’t quit.

“I love basketball,” Gemelos said. “It’s everything to me. I just never really envisioned myself not playing, not playing at the highest level, because that’s been my dream since I was little.”

Gemelos is now 31 years old and she’s still balling. She was signed late last month by the Connecticut Sun, her second WNBA job since her one and only season with the Chicago Sky in 2015.

“I feel like ever since I’ve gotten back on the court and been able to play for a substantial amount of time, I come in every day with a smile no matter what,” Gemelos said. “And I know that doesn’t sound believable. It is for me.

“I’m just so happy to be on the court. I’m just so happy playing in the WNBA. It’s the most elite level in the world and I just feel grateful. I feel lucky. I feel blessed.”

*** 

Gemelos might have been the next big thing in women's basketball. She scored 3,162 career points at St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif. She averaged 39.2 points, 8.9 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a senior (2005-06).

Pick an honor and Gemelos earned it. In her senior year, she was MaxPreps.com's National Player of the Year, earned McDonald’s All-American, WBCA All-American and Miss Basketball of California honors and was a USA Today first team selection.

Gemelos committed to UConn when she was 15 years old. She later changed her mind and decided to go to USC.

It wasn't until Feb. 4, 2010, that Gemelos made her college debut.

The first ACL tear cost Gemelos her entire freshman season at USC. She tore her right ACL again during off-season workouts in 2007. She tore her left ACL in 2008. She had to undergo another knee reconstruction before the 2009 season when it was discovered that her body rejected the graft used to repair it.

Gemelos got through the 2010-11 season unscathed. She started in 28 of 37 games, averaging 30.6 minutes, 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds as she helped the Trojans reach the WNIT final.

Gemelos tore her left ACL again nine games into the following season against Texas A&M on Dec. 18, 2011. She was averaging 11 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds. It was the end of her college career.

“I definitely had those moments where I felt defeated and kind of like, ‘OK, what the hell?’” Gemelos said. “This isn’t working. Am I crazy for continuing to try? Maybe I am.

“Always, at the end of it all, it’s a very temporary feeling for me. It didn’t last that long. I’m so hungry and so eager to want to play in the WNBA because I felt that’s where I belonged, especially in high school. I was a high-caliber player in high school and then had all those injuries, but that feeling never went away.”

Gemelos worked with Fabrice Gautier after her last surgery. Gautier is a physical therapist and osteopath who has worked with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Victoria Azarenka, Tony Parker and Giancarlo Stanton. He told SlamOnline.com in 2013 that he had never worked with anyone who had more than two ACL surgeries.

“I didn’t accept anything else,” Gemelos said, “and I feel like even with the people urging me to stop playing, I didn’t want someone else to dictate my life, to dictate whether I should or shouldn’t play when I know me and my body. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t play.

“I didn’t really care what other people thought. I knew I could still do it. Screw it, I’m going to do it.”

***

The late Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, is credited for the following bit of wisdom: “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

Losing so many years of basketball, being away from the court for so long, has given Gemelos a different perspective on the game.

“I had a really good talk with Candace Parker one time,” Gemelos said. “We talked about how injuries make you see things differently. It’s a different kind of player and a different kind of mindset when you’ve had so many injuries, serious injuries. When you were told you shouldn’t play anymore.

“You appreciate the game and how you want to enjoy every day because I think the ones that have gone through these injuries and have been told such horrific things (about the injuries), that you shouldn’t play anymore, you just wish so badly in those moments that you weren’t injured and that you were a player that didn’t have injuries. You just feel so defeated. ... You’re in a real dark moment in your career, in your life, when you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to play anymore.

“I don’t take it for granted.”

***

The Minnesota Lynx drafted Gemelos in the third round knowing that she would sit out that season. She was signed in 2013 but was cut during training camp.

Gemelos signed with the Chicago Sky in 2015 and averaged 5 minutes in 17 games. She’s played overseas since 2013 and was selected to play for Greece’s national team in 2018. Most importantly, she’s been healthy.

Connecticut signed Gemelos to a training camp contract in March. She was released in late May when teams had to cut their rosters down to a maximum of 12 players.

Sun post Jonquel Jones, a 2019 All-WNBA second team pick, announced on June 22 that she would sit out this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It freed up enough cap space for them to sign both rookie post Beatrice Mompremier and Gemelos.

“I really believed that we needed a positive person on and off the court,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “She’s very much respected around the league as a uniter and she has formed great relationships with veterans around this league through her international play.

“She’s really earned this opportunity. She’s fought her way back and put herself in position to be on a roster in this league.”

Gemelos has gotten a lot of work at training camp because the Sun are short-handed at guard. Starter Briann January and reserve Natisha Hiedeman, the latter who backed up staring point guard Jasmine Thomas last season, both tested positive for coronavirus and aren’t with the team.

“I think I can bring some leadership,” Gemelos said. “Definitely a smile on my face every day. I think that’s going to be needed in this bubble, especially when we start to play games and things start to get real, just having someone that’s going to be positive.

“I’m really happy with coming to Connecticut. I think this is such a great fit for me. I really like the staff. I love the team.”

***

Gemelos started “Overcome” two summers ago as she wanted to try something different that she could do online while still traveling so much playing basketball. It’s been more of a hobby for her than a way to make money.

“(Overcome), that’s just a really powerful word,” Gemelos said. “My career has kind of become that, overcoming injuries, overcoming adversity. I’ve always wanted to do something that could inspire other people.”

One of the T-shirts Gemelos sells is a nod to her injury history. It's called “#ACL Gang.”

“My second passion behind playing basketball is helping people and helping other athletes and being able to share my experiences and things I’ve gone through,” Gemelos said. “Just kind of be an example and help them get through not just the adversity of injuries but mental and emotional difficulties and things like that.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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