Chicago, IL -- Being a fan of Chicago basketball in recent years, unfortunately, you know a thing or two about knee injuries. The Bulls losing Derrick Rose for two seasons and an extremely crucial playoff run continues to make Bulls fans cringe. Although he will not admit it, I'm sure the injuries still linger in the back of Rose's mind as well - how can it not?
Imagine being Chicago Sky guard Jacki Gemelos. After a decorated high school career at Saint Mary's in Stockton, California, which saw her average 39.2 points, 8.9 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game in her senior season, Gemelos was on the verge of greatness at the next level.
Gemelos ended her high school career with a torn ACL in her right knee. What followed was consecutive redshirt seasons at the University of Southern California after re-tearing and on two occasions repairing her ACL, and two more surgeries on the ACL in her other knee.
Five knee surgeries slowed down Gemelos' ascension to the pros, but didn't put it to a halt. After an up and down career at USC, the Minnesota Lynx selected Jacki Gemelos with the 31st pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft. Gemelos sat out the 2012 WNBA season to rehab her knee and was officially signed by the Lynx the following season but failed to make the roster.
Gemelos headed to Europe where she averaged 15.5 points and 6.6 rebounds while playing in Greece and Italy. Finally healthy and getting into a groove, Gemelos caught the attention of Chicago Sky coach and general manager Pokey Chatman and was invited to Sky training camp - ultimately she made the team.
The journey for Gemelos to achieve her goal of making it to the pros was filled with major obstacles. The average person would have throw in the towel a long time ago. Her perseverance serves as an inspiration to people from all walks of life. Regardless of your background or the stumbling blocks in your path, never, ever give up on your dreams.
Swish Appeal: How does it feel to have your first WNBA regular season under your belt?
Jacki Gemelos: It's been an amazing road. This whole season is like nothing I could have ever asked for. I'm so happy to be a part of the Chicago Sky and this group of girls and this coaching staff. It's been probably the best time of my life.
SA: That's awesome.
JG: Thank you.
SA: What's the best part about it?
JG: I think just playing with a team that is so smart, experienced, and so talented. You go down the entire roster, and everyone can play. With Sloot, Cappie, and Elena these are three of the best players in the WNBA - and Allie Quigley. It's a treat for me to be here and get to learn from everyone.
SA: Everyone knows about you going through the knee injuries, how long did it take you after the surgeries to feel confident and comfortable playing on the repaired knee?
JG: Well, it's hard for me to answer that because for me it happened consistently - back to back to back. So I never really got a serious time period where I was actually healthy. I'm almost three years out of my last surgery, so I'm starting to feel really good. I'm 26, so I'm probably in my peak-playing career right now. Hopefully by the time I'm 28-29 I could be playing the best basketball of my life. I'd say a year or two more of overseas experience, practice, and then playing here in the WNBA.
SA: How does the WNBA differ from playing in Greece and Italy?
JG: I think overseas you have one or two American's so it's really focused on you and predicated on you on the offensive end. You come here everybody can play, and the roster is more spread out. It's a lot more learning.
SA: You and Elena seem really close. What's your relationship like with the MVP?
JG: We played USA Basketball in 2012 together for the World University Games. We became really close there. We were with each other in China, which is a pretty hard place to be for an American - it's just a lot different. We were with each other for almost a month straight. I came here and our relationship just got stronger, and our friendship just grew. She's the best. I love her.
SA: You're from Stockton, right?
SA: That's a rough place [laughs].
JG: It is, it is!
SA: What was it like growing up in Stockton?
JG: I think it definitely molded who I am today. I definitely appreciate being from Stockton. The community there has been so supportive of me, and my career. I couldn't have grown up in a better place. I think it's given me a little edge to who I am.
SA: Do you ever go back?
JG: Every chance I get. My family still lives in the same house I grew up in. It's the best. It's home. 209!
SA: 209 represent!
SA: You don't get a lot of playing time, but what did Pokey tell you your role is on this team?
JG: I think I just need to stay ready. I never know when I'm going to get my chance. Like I said, this team and the girls that we have and the caliber of play that we're playing at, it's a treat to be here -- just me being here, practicing with these girls, and getting better - that in itself. I just have to stay ready, continue to be positive, and be a good teammate. My time will come. I'm not in any rush. I'm very patient, I trust the process, and I trust Pokey, 100%.
SA: You scored 40 points a game in high school, so you can play. Is it just a numbers game here?
JG: It's just a process. It's just a time thing. It's my first year in the WNBA. My number one dream and goal was to make a team; now I'm here. Now I'm setting new goals and new dreams, and that's to maybe one day be a starter in the WNBA. I'm just going to take my time.
SA: What's it like to score 40 points a game? That doesn't even seem realistic!
JG: [Laughs] That was so long ago. Before all my injuries and everything I had a certain confidence and swagger to who I was and that just kind of carried throughout life and the court. Once I get that back, everything will start to fall into place for me.
SA: What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
JG: The food is incredible. The last thing would be the weather. I can't stand the weather being from Cali. It's a really clean city. I love downtown. Like I said, the food is so good.
SA: What's your favorite thing you've eaten or your favorite restaurant?
JG: I mean the pizza here is really good - the deep dish, obviously. I really like Portillo's; I know it's not good, but I love Portillo's. My heart is there.
SA: What do you get from Portillo's?
JG: Hot dogs - my favorite food. Hot dogs are my favorite food.
JG: Yeah. It's probably not something to be proud of, but I'm from Stockton, what can I say?
SA: Do you put ketchup on the hot dog?
JG: Absolutely, and cheese. I don't do this all the time. I'm a pretty clean eater. But when I want to really just get after, it I'll head to Portillo's.
SA: Nothing wrong with that.
SA: The Sky is a team that made it to the Finals last year and could end up back there again. What would it mean for you to be on a team to win the championship in your first season?
JG: I mean, I don't even really know how to answer that. I feel like it would just make my first year in the WNBA the most incredible experience I could have ever asked for. I see that. I can visualize us winning the championship. I would cry. I would probably be crying for a week straight because it would be the greatest time of my life. I think if we did it this year, which we have a great chance; this team has the potential to keep doing it. We're a special group.