With the fourth pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, the Indiana Fever took a chance on Kysre Gondrezick, a guard from Benton Harbor, Michigan by way of West Virginia University.
The pick seemed to be a surprise to many, even ESPN — she was the only pick in the top five that didn’t have a live feed on the broadcast, and she didn’t get an interview with analyst Holly Rowe, just a short highlight package and some analysis from the in-studio crew. It even caught Gondrezick and her friends and family off guard while watching the draft live — but she had a feeling that the Fever would come calling.
“I asked my best friend to record when [Indiana was] on the board, and I said we’ll delete it if I don’t get picked,” she said. “But by the grace of God, we caught all the emotion, and I couldn’t be more happier and humbled, and I’m ready to get started. I’m ready to fly out tonight if I could.”
While Gondrezick’s WNBA journey began after a phone call from Fever legend and general manager Tamika Catchings, her trail to this point has been winding and bumpy as she’s had to overcome some adversity.
Gondrezick was a star at Benton Harbor High School, making headlines with a 72-point playoff performance as a senior before earning the title of Miss Basketball in Michigan, averaging 40.5 points per game.
“I’ve always said, if I can make it out of Benton Harbor, I can make it anywhere, and life has been a little easier since I’ve been out of Benton Harbor,” she said.
After high school, Gondrezick joined nearby Michigan as a five-star recruit, quickly garnering attention around the Big Ten. She earned All-Big Ten second team honors as a freshman, averaging 14.9 points per game to lead all players in her class across the conference.
Despite the success, she wasn’t completely happy in Ann Arbor. Not only did she find her quick style of play incompatible with the Big Ten’s game, but she wanted to make a move that would help her grow as a person.
“Getting away from home, figuring out life on my own and making those adjustments — which I did,” she said. “I found a home in West Virginia that has prepared me for this level from a basketball standpoint, but also as a young woman as well.”
Transfer rules in 2017 dictated that Gondrezick sit out her first season in Morgantown. She used that year to get to know Mike Carey’s system and program, while preparing for her new conference’s style of play.
Gondrezick was treated to a culture shock upon her arrival. When she showed up to her new team’s first open runs of the offseason, she was taken aback by the forwards on her team taking three-pointers — a 180-degree turn from her previous squad.
“I’m like, I made the worst decision of my life, but I’m here and I’ve got to make the best of it,” she said. “So I used that year to just learn the system, get my body in shape, get quicker.”
She made her Mountaineer debut on Nov. 15, 2018 against Bryant, dropping 16 points and dishing five assists. Unfortunately, Gondrezick made just four more appearances for the Mountaineers before missing the season due to personal reasons.
Gondrezick started getting comfortable in her junior season, leading the Mountaineers in scoring as she began to set herself apart as one of the Big 12’s top guards. She earned an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in her first year as a full-time starter, but a losing record in the conference and a pandemic-shortened season left her hungry to prove herself even more.
This hunger was fueled by her father, Grant, who knew a thing or two about pro basketball as a two-year veteran in the NBA with other stints around the world.
“The day after last season, my dad said to me, ‘It’s time to get to work. We’ve got an All-American season ahead and a top-five draft pick,’ and I’m looking at him like he’s crazy,” she said.
To do this, she focused on her body in the offseason, working out two to three times a day, five or six times a week, from morning until night. The hard work resulted in one of the most positive transformations that Coach Carey had witnessed upon returning for her senior year.
“Her quickness is a lot better this year than it was last year, without a doubt,” Carey said ahead of the season. “She could always score — always score — but now she’s able to play the defense, get up the lane, guard point guards now and that type of stuff, so her footwork and quickness is much improved….She has worked extremely hard this whole summer to get to where she’s at right now.”
Gondrezick’s improvements were immediately apparent. Her scoring average topped 20 points per game out of the gate as she once again led her team in that category, while also slowly raising her draft stock.
Just as she was getting into the groove, however, life hit her out of nowhere. On Jan. 7, Gondrezick’s father suddenly passed away in the night, shocking both her and her family.
On Jan. 9, with tears in her eyes, Gondrezick suited up to face No. 17 Texas and eventual No. 1 overall pick Charli Collier. She scored 24 points and dished seven assists as the Mountaineers ran the Longhorns out of the WVU Coliseum, 92-58. Four days later, she followed it up with a 19-point performance against Texas Tech before taking a hiatus to be with her family.
When she came back, she put together one of the best stretches in her career, scoring 20-plus points in five straight games and putting up a career-high 30 points against Kansas State.
West Virginia’s season came to a disappointing end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but individually, Gondrezick finished the season as a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team honoree as one of the top players in the conference, morphing her from a blip on the WNBA radar to a potential focal point of the future for some franchises.
She especially caught the eye of Catchings, whose focus is improving the Fever’s defense and three-point shooting. Gondrezick’s versatility appealed to the WNBA legend, who eventually made the call to bring her aboard the Fever and realize Grant Gondrezick’s prophecy.
“It’s funny how he spoke everything into existence and manifested this very moment,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s not present for me, but he’s up there, and he knew it.”
Despite everything she’s gone through to get to this point, Gondrezick is just embarking on her true journey — a professional basketball career. She has her work cut out for her as the top new prospect in a struggling team, as the Fever finished 2020 with a 6-16 record and extended their playoff drought that stems from 2017.
She’s in good hands, though, following in the footsteps of her new general manager. Catchings had one of the most storied careers in WNBA history as a 10-time All-Star and the MVP of the 2012 WNBA Finals in 15 years with the Fever.
Of course, Gondrezick has a long way to go before she can be in that conversation. In the meantime, however, Catchings says the best thing she can do is just enjoy the process.
“When you get picked into the WNBA, there are only 144 players in our league, so when you get in and you get the opportunity, and I’ve said this plenty of times, in college you’re guaranteed four years. In the pros, you’re guaranteed one day, so every single day needs to be your best day, and you prepare for it, you’ve prepared for the journey, you’re already set up for this opportunity,” she said. “I smile a lot, this is just who I am, but you smile, you enjoy the process, you’re going to have good days and bad days, but every day you come out and enjoy the process.”