In Gabi Haack’s return decision
PEORIA – Andrea Gorski sat at a restaurant in Jacksonville, Fla. With her family a few weeks ago, preparing to order dinner after the biggest season in Bradley women’s basketball history.
An unexpected dessert arrived in the form of a phone call, as fifth-year senior Gabi Haack signed up for BU’s menu for a recall in 2021-2022.
“It’s Gabi,” Bradley’s coach said after glancing at his phone. “I was like, ‘This will either be very good news or very bad news.’ It was a dramatic moment.
“She said ‘Coach, I thought about it’… then she said the words, ‘I’m coming back.’ I literally jumped out of my seat and started jumping up and down in the restaurant. “
Background: Basketball player Gabi Haack wins Bradley’s Charles Orsborn award
Decide in quarantine
Haack, the highly decorated 5-foot-10 guard, who led the Bradley women to the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility given to college athletes due to the pandemic.
Already one of Bradley’s most decorated basketball players, the 22-year-old will teach this fall and complete a healthy minor in the spring before graduating.
Just days after BU’s appearance in the NCAA, Haack tested positive for COVID. “I didn’t have any pain. The worst part was a sore throat,” she said. “It was difficult to be alone in my room, sitting alone.”
As she sat in quarantine, she pulled out a piece of paper and made a list of pros and cons to help determine her path for 2021-2022. “It all depended on my next steps, I thought about education and basketball,” she said. “I wrote down every detail, I really studied it.
“Ultimately my relationship with my coaches, staff, teammates made the difference. I’m playing for a coach who really loves me and cares about me, would do anything for me as a person not just a player, cares about my future, that made it obvious to me.
“As of today, I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
“We had a great year”
Despite the stress of COVID protocols in 2020-21, Bradley persevered and missed a game. “We followed the guidelines and protocols of the sports department, stayed in our bubble,” she said. “We had a great year.”
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Perhaps the greatest – not just for Bradley but for Haack, who:
- won the prestigious Charles Orsborn Award from Bradley.
- was the MVC Researcher-Athlete of the Year and was Bradley’s first CoSIDA varsity selection since 2009-10, earning first-team honors.
- won the MVC Tournament Outstanding Player award after averaging 21.0 points per game and shooting 41.7% over a 3-point range (10 of 24) in all three BU wins.
- became the three-time first overall All-MVC pick in program history, finishing second to MVC in scoring (16.5 points per game) and sixth in rebounds (6.8 points per game) . She reached the league’s 77 best points (11th nationally) and is the only player in MVC history to have made 60 or more at 3 points in four different seasons.
- holds Bradley’s career 3-point record with 283, just 12 points behind Dayna Finch (Creighton) in the league.
- is the nation’s only player with 275 career 3 points and 700 or more rebounds.
Show your strength
Haack entered his senior year at Elk River, Minn. High School with North Dakota and Bradley as his only NCAA Division I.
She has a lot of Division II contenders, but what she heard from other schools made her burn inside.
“A lot of DI schools talked to me but told me I wasn’t at the Division I level,” Haack said. “I had a coach who said to me ‘I wouldn’t have to face these (better) players.’
“Just hearing that was frustrating. Deep down inside I had always set this goal, since high school, and I kept sticking with it. I knew that if I kept working hard, something would happen.”
Gorski says a lot of DI schools have questioned whether Haack is quick enough to defend. The BU coach believed it, and she saw a player capable of broadening her game.
“She’s evolved,” Gorski said. “She’s taken to the weight room.”
With the help of Bradley’s associate director of athletic performance, Matt Friend, Haack presses 200 pounds. She lifts 400 and squats 325.
These are rare numbers for a player in women’s football, especially a goalkeeper. Her post-BU career goal is to be a college-level strength / conditioning coach, and she is interning this summer in the University of Florida program.
“Usually your 3-point shooters don’t know how to spell defense,” Gorski said. “Gabi comes in and bounces. She keeps. She’s powerful. She’s a unique person, prepares for practice the same way she does for games.”
Haack loved watching the WNBA Minnesota Lynx as a child, and is given a professional kick after she leaves Bradley.
“She’s just a top player,” Gorski said. “We tell the kids to act like professionals. Gabi did it from day one. She will be a professional player for sure, if she wants to play abroad she will.”
Growing up in Elk River
Haack grew up in Elk River, Minnesota, a city of about 23,000 people stationed at the confluence of the Mississippi and Elk rivers about 35 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
His mother, Laura, and his father, Dan, raised their children to be competitive.
Jordan, 24, now a financial analyst in New York. Lydia, 20, plays basketball at NCAA D-II Upper Iowa University. Carson, 16, is a junior at Elk River High School and plays tennis and basketball.
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And there is Gabi. The kid who longed to be outside and compete with the boys. She was riding a bike without training wheels at the age of 3. She played boys’ T-ball – the only girl on the team – with her brother as a teammate. She practiced almost all sports.
“I loved playing against the boys,” she said. “We throw the soccer ball, baseballs, shoot baskets. My dad was doing obstacle courses for us in the living room.”
Her father was her basketball coach from kindergarten to eighth grade.
She was not allowed to call him dad on the basketball court. Only coach. Just like the other players. Haack considers him to be his greatest model in basketball.
“He taught me to work hard, taught me character,” she said. “He told me early on that being the coach’s daughter I always had to work the hardest and lead by example.
“I guess that connection to my dad is what made me fall in love with basketball. I loved going to games. This motivation for games. Being coached. I loved his competitiveness and the fact that he ‘there was always something to improve.
“It animates me.”
Even in the occasional Haack family shootout. They have a basketball court at their home in Elk River. Yes, the punches are taken, verbal and with the ball.
“We have shooting competitions,” Haack said with a laugh. “My mom has a pretty nice picture, Carson, Lydia has some nice pictures. The only one I would say doesn’t stand a chance is Jordan. We have it anyway.”
She led Elk River to an unbeaten season and state championship as a senior, with her sister, then New Year Lydia, as a teammate. By the time she graduated high school, she had learned basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field, played for a state softball champion, led a state basketball season and in 2016- 17 was named Miss Basketball Minnesota.
“No one can ever take that away from us. I love Elk River,” she said. “They have invested a lot in me and have always supported me. I love coming home.”
“She just needed permission”
Haack will start the 2021-2022 season second in career at Bradley with 1,640 career points, just below Karen Anderson’s (1979-83) school record of 1,679 points.
Haack will spend 2021-2022 carving out a place in Bradley’s basketball history, helping to lead a team with five freshmen and three transfers. It’s the final act of a journey that began with a comment her trainer made to her mom one day during her freshman year.
“I remember when she started training with us in first year she was holding back,” Gorski said. “She didn’t want to hurt anyone. Didn’t want to make her teammates look bad in training.”
History: Gabi Haack sets career mark for 3 points for Bradley women’s basketball team
Just before the Christmas holidays, Gorski spotted Laura Haack in her car, waiting to pick up Gabi, and walked over to chat.
“I remember what I said: ‘Once she understands that it’s okay to make teammates look bad in training, she will dominate,” said Gorski.
The team returned from the break, and the first start at Haack University followed against Western Illinois. All she did was tie the school record with eight 3-pointers (8 of 12) and a season-high of 26 points, as well as 10 rebounds. A double-double.
“She just needed permission to make other people look bad,” Gorski said. “I’ll never forget that. I thought, ‘We should have told him sooner.’
“She’s so confident now, she’s really coming out of her shell. You look at Gabi Haack now, she inspires her teammates, everyone around her.…
“From the day she set foot on campus, she’s done everything the right way.”
Dave Eminian is the Sports Columnist for The Journal Star and covers Bradley’s men’s basketball, the Rivermens and the Chiefs. He writes the sports column Cleve In The Eve for pjstar.com. Contact him at 686-3206 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.