Jacki Gemelos’ Long Journey Finally Coming Full Circle
Aug. 6, 2011 • Colorado Springs, Colo.
Jacki Gemelos is a name that was on every team’s radar five years ago. The 2006 graduate of St. Mary’s High School in California finished her prep career with 3,162 career points and a 39.2 ppg. average her senior season. She was the No. 1 prospect on nearly every scouting Web site’s list and was on her way to a successful career at the University of Southern California.
“For some people it may have been overwhelming,” Gemelos said, “but for me, I felt confident every time I stepped on the floor. There wasn’t ever a doubt in my mind, and I liked the added pressure of having to perform every time.”
That confidence took a hit in May 2006—after Gemelos had finished her high-school playing career and was eagerly anticipating graduation and USC—when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for the first time.
“At that point it was hard because I knew that it would back up some summer workouts and stuff,” Gemelos said. “But it didn’t affect my confidence or mindset until the second and third.”
And then there was a fourth and a fifth.
In 40 months between May 2006 and September 2009, Gemelos had four ACL surgeries—two on each knee—and one arthroscopic surgery.
In February 2010, nearly four years after graduating high school, the No. 1 prospect still had not touched the court during a collegiate game.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life, having to sit down and watch players I came in with, girls like Tina Charles, Jenna Bell, Monica Wright, the list goes on and on,” Gemelos said. “They’re now in the WNBA and it’s hard to watch that and to still be sitting out and rehabbing, wondering if I was ever going to get that chance.”
As for doubts, she had plenty, admitting she wondered if it was worth waiting, knowing her chance might never come. When asked if she ever thought about quitting, her answer was stern.
“Oh yeah, plenty of times,” Gemelos said. “You know, probably every other day it crossed my mind. But then something would snap into my head, or I’d realize that I couldn’t give this game up without trying to play again. Those four years I really just waited and lived day by day.”
Finally, on Feb. 4, 2010, Gemelos’ perseverance paid off, as she suited up and stepped on the court for the first time in nearly four years.
“It was really awesome, definitely a surreal feeling,” Gemelos said. “I was near my hometown, so all of my friends and family were there; people from high school came and watched. It was a really cool experience and something I’ll never forget.”
Gemelos scored eight points in 26 minutes that night, and went on to play the final 10 games of the season.
In 2010-11, Gemelos helped the Trojans to a 24-13 record and the WNIT championship game. The 6-0 guard started 28 of her team’s 37 games, averaging 12.4 ppg. (third-most on the team) and adding 95 assists, 27 blocks and 51 steals, all in the top three among her teammates.
“Looking back, I’m just really proud of myself for sticking with it and keeping the strength to keep going and trying to chase the dreams I’ve had since I was a little girl,” she said.
She admits that she still fears another tear or injury, but that it’s not stopping her from making the most of her last season as at USC, which she fully expects now that she’s “near 100 percent.”
“Ever since the start of the injuries more than four years ago I’ve never said I was 100 percent,” Gemelos said. “This summer is the best I’ve felt since I was cleared.”
The last couple of months have been emotionally overwhelming for Gemelos, who in May was invited to try out for the USA Basketball World University Games Team. Her improvement and skill impressed the selection committee as she was named as a finalist and was invited back this week. On Wednesday, Gemelos got the news that she had earned a roster spot and would be representing the USA for the first time in six years.
“It was almost unbelievable when Coach (Bill) Fennelly (USA head coach, Iowa State) told me I had made the team,” Gemelos said. “I was very, very happy and couldn’t be more thrilled to be here and around these people and this caliber of players. It’s once in a lifetime.”
Gemelos competed with the 2005 USA Basketball Youth Developmental Festival White Team, going 2-3 en route to the silver medal, but with six years passing without an invitation, she began to wonder if she’d ever get the chance again to compete for a gold medal.
“Honestly, I had my doubts, having to sit out for four years,” she said. “It didn’t so much shatter my dreams, but definitely blurred them. I didn’t know if I would ever get back on this stage again. When I was cleared in February 2010, I would have told you no.”
Having spent five years at USC already, Gemelos completed her bachelor’s degree in sociology and is now a few credits away from a master’s degree in gerontology. She sees the opportunity to get two degrees from an academic school like USC as “a silver lining.” Aside from basketball, Gemelos loves shopping, going to the beach and soccer, saying that the Southern California area is great for all three.
But make no mistake, Gemelos’ focus is on the court. After spending so much time off of it, there’s no place she rather be.
“My dream is to one day play in the WNBA and for the USA National Team,” Gemelos said. “We’ll see where it goes. I’m just taking it day by day right now.”
Which shouldn’t be a problem considering waiting and seeing, taking things day by day, is something Gemelos has become very accustomed to.