PEORIA — Andrea Gorski was sitting in a Jacksonville, Florida, restaurant with her family a couple of weeks ago, getting ready to order dinner after the greatest season in Bradley women’s basketball history.
An unexpected dessert arrived in the form of a phone call, as fifth-year senior Gabi Haack put herself on BU’s menu for an encore in 2021-22.
“It’s Gabi,” the Bradley coach said after glancing at her phone. “I thought, ‘This is going to be either really great news or really bad news.’ It was a drama-filled moment.
“She said ‘Coach, I’ve been thinking 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
Deciding 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 granted to college athletes because of the pandemic.
Already one of Bradley’s most decorated women’s basketball players ever, the 22-year-old will student teach this fall and fill out a health minor in the spring before graduating.
Just a few days after BU’s NCAA appearance, Haack tested positive for COVID. “I didn’t have it bad. Worse thing was a sore throat,” she said. “It was hard to be in my room by myself, sitting isolated.”
While she sat in quarantine, she took out a piece of paper and made a pros and cons list to help determine her path for 2021-22. “It was all about my next steps, I thought about education, and basketball,” she said. “I wrote down every detail, really studied it.
“At the end of the day, my relationships with my coaches, the staff, my teammates made a difference. I’m playing for a coach who truly loves and cares about me, would do anything for me as a person not just a player, cares about my future. That made it a no-brainer for me.
“At the of the day I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
‘We had a great year’
Despite the stress of COVID protocols in 2020-21, Bradley persevered and missed no games. “We followed the athletic department guidelines and protocols, stayed in our bubble,” she said. “We had a great year.”
Protocols:Wearable tracking tags help Bradley basketball teams more easily tackle COVID protocols
Perhaps the greatest — not only for Bradley but for Haack, who:
- earned Bradley’s prestigious Charles Orsborn Award.
- was the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was Bradley’s first CoSIDA Academic All-District selection since 2009-10, earning first-team honors.
- won the MVC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award after averaging 21.0 points per game and shooting 41.7% from 3-point range (10-of-24) in BU’s three wins.
- became the first three-time First Team All-MVC pick in program history, finishing second in the MVC in scoring (16.5 ppg) and sixth in rebounding (6.8 rpg). She hit a league-best 77 3-pointers (11th nationally), and is the only player in MVC history to have 60 or more made 3-pointers in four different seasons.
- holds Bradley’s career 3-point field goal record with 283, just 12 short of Dayna Finch’s (Creighton) league mark.
- is the only player in the nation with 275 career 3-pointers and 700 or more rebounds.
Showing her strength
Haack headed into her senior year at Elk River (Minn.) High School with North Dakota and Bradley as her only NCAA Division I offers.
She has a lot of Division II suitors, but what she had heard from other schools made her burn inside.
“A lot of D-I schools talked to me but told me I wasn’t Division I level,” Haack said. “I had a coach tell me ‘I wouldn’t have to face those (better) players.’
“Just hearing that was frustrating. Deep down I’d always set that goal, since high school, and I wasn’t letting it go. I knew if I kept working hard something would come up.”
Gorski says a lot of D-I schools questioned whether Haack was quick enough to defend. The BU coach believed, and she saw a player capable of broadening her game.
“She has evolved,” Gorski said. “She’s taken to the weight room.”
Thanks to help from Bradley associate director of sport performance Matt Friend, Haack bench presses 200 pounds. She dead lifts 400 and squats 325.
Those are rare numbers for a player in the women’s game, especially a guard. Her post-BU career goal is to be a strength/conditioning coach at the college level, and she’s interning this summer in the University of Florida’s program.
“Usually your 3-point shooters don’t know how to spell defense,” Gorski said. “Gabi comes in and rebounds. She guards. She’s powerful. She’s a unique, prepares herself for practices the same way she does for games.”
Haack loved to watch the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx when she was a kid, and sees herself giving pro ball a shot once she leaves Bradley.
“She’s just a big-time player,” Gorski said. “We tell kids to act like professionals. Gabi has done that from Day 1. She’ll be a pro player for sure, if she wants to play overseas she will.”
Growing up in Elk River
Haack grew up in Elk River, Minn., a town of about 23,000 parked in the confluence of the Mississippi and Elk rivers about 35 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Her mother, Laura, and father, Dan, raised their kids to be competitive.
There is 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 playing tennis and basketball.
Men’s hoops:Catch up on all of Bradley basketball’s newest players after a busy recruiting season
And there’s Gabi. The kid who yearned to be outside and compete with the boys. She was riding a bike without training wheels at age 3. Played boys T-ball — the only girl on the team — with her brother as a teammate. She played nearly every sport.
“I loved to play against the boys,” she said. “We’d throw the football around, throw baseballs around, shoot baskets. My dad would make obstacle courses for us in the living room.”
Her father was her basketball coach from kindergarten through eighth grade.
She wasn’t allowed to call him dad on the basketball court. Only coach. Just like the other players. Haack considers him her biggest basketball role model.
“He taught me how to work hard, taught me about character,” she said. “He told me early on that being the coach’s daughter I always had to work hardest and lead by example.
“I guess that bond with my dad is what made me fall in love with basketball. I loved going to games. That drive to the games. Being coached. I loved the competitiveness of it and that there was always something to get better at.
“That drives me.”
Even in the occasional Haack family shootaround. They have a basketball court at home in Elk River. Yes, shots are taken, verbal and with the ball.
“We have shooting contests,” Haack said, laughing. “My mom has a pretty nice shot, Carson, Lydia have nice shots. The only one I would say has no chance is Jordan. We get after it, though.”
She led Elk River to an undefeated season and state championship as a senior, with her sister, then-freshman Lydia, as a teammate. By the time she was done in high school, she had lettered in basketball, volleyball, softball and track, played for a softball state champion, led a basketball state championship season and in 2016-17 was named Miss Basketball Minnesota.
“No one will ever be able to take that away from us. I love Elk River,” she said. “They invested a lot in me and always supported me. I love going back home.”
‘She just needed permission’
Haack will start the 2021-22 season second in career scoring at Bradley with 1,640 career points, just shy of Karen Anderson’s (1979-83) school record of 1,679 points.
Haack will spend 2021-22 carving out her place in Bradley basketball history, helping lead a team with five freshmen and three transfers. It’s the final act in a journey that began with a comment her coach made to her mom one day during her freshman year.
“I remember when she first started practicing with us as a freshman, she was holding back,” Gorski said. “She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Didn’t want to make her teammates look bad in practice.”
History:Gabi Haack sets career mark for 3-pointers for Bradley women’s basketball team
Right before Christmas break, Gorski spotted Laura Haack in her car, waiting to pick up Gabi, and walked up for a chat.
“I remember what I said: ‘Once she figures out it’s OK to make your teammates look bad at practice she will dominate,’ ” Gorski said.
The team came back from break, and Haack’s first college start followed against Western Illinois. All she did was tie the school record with eight 3-pointers (8 of 12) and a season-high 26 points, along with 10 rebounds. A double-double.
“She just needed permission to make other people look bad,” Gorski said. “I’ll never forget it. I was thinking, ‘We should have told her that earlier.’
“She’s so confident now, really come out of her shell. You watch 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 Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.