By Jagdip Dhillon
Record Staff Writer
Jacki Gemelos still is chasing her dream, having overcome too much to give up on her life's passion.
Gemelos, 25, is leaving her home in Los Angeles this weekend to play professionally in Italy, another step up in competition as she works toward another shot at the WNBA. After a string of knee injuries from her senior year at St. Mary's High to her senior year at USC, Gemelos was a third-round pick of the Minnesota Lynx in 2012. She missed her rookie season as she recovered from her sixth anterior cruciate ligament surgery and failed to make the team in 2013. She participated in the Atlanta Dream's training camp this past spring, but didn't make the final roster.
“Playing in the WNBA is the reason I'm still playing after everything that has gone on with my health,” Gemelos said. “It's very important to me to pursue that dream and get that goal. I have to throw out my insecurities to make it.”
Gemelos' brilliant high school career was cut short during the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs her senior season when she tore the ACL in her right knee. She was the most decorated player in St. Mary's history — a McDonald's All-American, California's player of the year, and MaxPreps' national player of the year — and she was The Record's All-Area player of the year four times and played on two CIF state championship teams.
Gemelos missed three full seasons over six years at USC, and parts of two others. She earned a spot on the USA team that won the gold medal at the World University Games in 2011. Gemelos graduated from USC in 2012 with bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's in gerontology.
Gemelos will play for Umbertide in Italy's top league and is listed as a probable starter, according to Eurobasket.com.
“I'm really excited and I can't wait,” Gemelos said. “It's a new chapter in my life after an amazing experience in Greece last year.”
Gemelos played for Panathinaikos in Athens last season, connecting with her Greek ancestry, and averaged 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in 15 games. She said her knees feel fine and her agent, Allison Galer, is confident a good season in Italy would earn Gemelos a serious look from the WNBA in 2015.
“This is one of the leagues that WNBA people watch,” Galer said. “She will have eyeballs on her and hopefully everything works out, she plays well and she'll get into another training camp next spring. The WNBA is very competitive with just 110-120 players, so nothing is guaranteed.”
Gemelos said she's dreamed of playing in the WNBA since the league was founded in 1996. She went to Sacramento Monarchs games with her father, Steve, who said he has encouraged her to pursue life after basketball, but understands why she isn't ready to give up just yet.
“That desire never really leaves you when you have had a taste of high-level play,” Steve Gemelos said. “It's always been her dream to play in that league.”
Gemelos said she's slowly regaining her confidence, and believes she can finally make her dream a reality.
“For me it's about remembering how I was before everything happened,” Gemelos said. “I used to have this unstoppable demeanor. Every time I stepped on the court, I knew no one could guard me. I realize now how important having your confidence is and it's taken me a long time to fully regain it.”