By Jim Sumner, GoDuke.com
DURHAM, N.C.-- There’s a new buzz-word in basketball, the “position less” player. It speaks to competence, even excellence but most of all it speaks to versatility, a player who can positively impact a game doing different things at different times in different places.
A player who checks a lot of boxes.
Haley Gorecki checked a lot of boxes for the Duke women’s basketball team this past season. In fact, a case can be made that she did as good a job of checking boxes as anyone in program history.
Well, let’s go to the scorecard.
Gorecki joined Alana Beard and Monique Currie as the only players in Duke women’s history to have at least 500 points, 200 rebounds, 100 assists and 75 steals in the same season.
Beard (2 002 and 2003) and Currie (2005) were all-Americans when they accomplished that feat.
Gorecki was not. Her blue-collar game doesn’t generate a lot of style points and almost every all-American comes from an NCAA Tournament team. Hamstrung by youth, injuries and an inability to close out close games, Duke ended its season at 15-15.
Gorecki did make First Team All-ACC.
Her 515 points averaged out to a team-leading 17.2 per game. She led Duke with 7.1 rebounds per game. She led Duke with 3.9 assists per game; Mikayla Boykin actually averaged 4.5 assists per game but only played eight games, not enough to qualify for any statistical categories. Gorecki also led Duke in minutes played and steals, the only player to start all 30 of Duke’s games.
Gorecki became the first player to lead Duke’s women in scoring, rebounding and assists in the same season. Only Danny Ferry has accomplished that for the Duke men, way back in 1987.
“Really cool,” Gorecki says of that accomplishment. “You always want to leave a mark.”
Think about the difficulty of this combination. A dominant post player can rule the paint and lead her team in scoring and rebounding. Think Elizabeth Williams. A scoring point guard can lead a team in scoring and assists. Try Jasmine Thomas or Lexie Brown.
But the dominant post player won’t get the assists, the great guard won’t get the rebounds.
But the position less player like Gorecki does it all.
She says she started developing her all-around skills in the seventh and eighth grades, playing against boys. She knew she wouldn’t be able to dominate that competition so she figured out ways to do lots of things.
At William Fremd High School in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, she became one of the top players in Illinois. Gorecki averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists as a senior, being named a Parade All-American and Illinois Player of the Year.
Yet Gorecki missed making the more prestigious McDonald’s All-America team and recruiting experts ranked her as the fifth-best prospect of Duke’s five-player prep class of 2015.
Duke knew better. Joanne P. McCallie said assistant Hernando Planells was Gorecki’s primary recruiter and that every time Planells saw her play, his reports were more glowing.
Gorecki came down to Duke and Connecticut and picked the Blue Devils.
Gorecki showed flashes of brilliance her first three years at Duke, at least when she was healthy enough to get on the floor.
Which was all too infrequent. Hip and shoulder surgeries not only kept her off the court, they turned her summers into rehab stints not on-court work.
McCallie says that makes Gorecki’s break-out 2019 season even more impressive.
“The roster said she was a junior but she was only barely a sophomore really. She didn’t get her freshman season. She was barely a borderline upperclassman. It’s incredible what she was able to accomplish with limited game time and experience. She’s dealt with incredible adversity.”
How does Gorecki so effectively fill up a stat sheet?
McCallie says Gorecki “is a threat in every category. She’s a great athlete, very strong. She’s always in the game. She’s a part of every play. Even when she doesn’t get the assist, she makes the pass before the pass. We call it ‘Haley action.’ She’s such a great competitor. She hates to lose.”
Gorecki has a relentless drive. Coaches talk about players who don’t take plays off. It’s probably an impossible goal. But Gorecki comes about as close as anyone to achieving it. She’s the sledgehammer that keeps pounding the rock until the rock cracks.
An example from Duke’s ACC Tournament win over Pittsburgh. With Duke up 70-49 early in the fourth period, Gorecki drove hard for the basket. She missed in traffic and went down hard. Perhaps, she was fouled or perhaps she was just off balance.
Some players take an extra breath or two and feel sorry for themselves in that situation.
Not Gorecki. She got up sprinted down court, grabbed a defensive rebound, bobbed and weaved her way down court through the Pitt defense, hit the layup and drew the foul.
What was exceptional about this play was how unexceptional it was. That’s the way Gorecki plays.
“I go hard all the time,” she acknowledges. “That’s just the way I play. Whatever the coach needs to be done. I put myself in that position without having to be taught.”
McCallie prioritizes rebounding and loves the effort she gets on the boards from the 6-0 Gorecki, who, after all, plays mostly on the perimeter.
“Haley is a long, tall rebounder. She gets one hand up and it's like a suction cup and pulls it down. And that's obviously very motivating . . . for her teammates and certainly motivating for us.”
McCallie praises Gorecki as a player “who’s so coachable. She wants to win, wants to get better. We drive her hard. She doesn’t mind being coached hard.”
“I don’t get hurt when I’m yelled at. That’s just a part of playing a sport.”
Sometimes she can be too hard on herself, not quickly moving on from a mistake. She says she can usually regain her composure by herself but getting yelled at by a coach or teammate always does the trick.
She says she also wants to cut down on her turnovers. McCallie says Gorecki has great court vision which sometimes leads to high-degree-of-difficulty plays.
Gorecki expects to continue her jack-of-all-trades game but would be fine not leading the team in assists next season if that means the healthy return of original classmate Kyra Lambert, who has missed the last two seasons with ACL injuries.
“I’m super excited to have Kyra back. She can set me up for some good shots and take some of that [play-making] off my hands.”
Before any of that happens, Gorecki will graduate this spring with a degree in psychology and likely work on a second degree next academic year, although some details remain to be finalized. She’ll spend most of the summer at home, working with her personal trainer, Jeff Pagliocca. She’s been working with him since middle school.
And of course, the consummate gym rat will finely get to spend a summer in the gym.
Duke returns most of its key players next season, expects to welcome back Lambert and Boykin from injuries and integrate a solid recruiting class.
Gorecki says she’s ready to lead a return to the postseason.
“I want to motivate the whole team, show how hard you need to work. We can do great things.