By Jim Sumner, GoDuke.com
DURHAM, N.C.-- Haley Gorecki could easily have felt sorry for herself. The Duke women’s basketball star spent much of her first three years at Duke either in pain, in surgery, in rehab or in street clothes, watching her teammates play. Duke played 99 games in those three years and Gorecki missed 62 of them due to hip problems. The entire 2016-17 season was lost along with sizeable chunks of the seasons preceding and following that redshirt season.
But Gorecki didn’t become one of the nation’s best players by indulging in self-pity.
“I never felt sorry for myself. I never thought ‘why me?’ I’m super competitive. I try to learn from everything. It taught me lessons. Never take anything for granted.”
Gorecki grew up in the Chicago suburbs, the youngest of three children. Her sister, Brittany, played high-school soccer, her brother, Adam, played high-school basketball. She became the prototypical kid sister, tagging along, learning both games, taking some bruises along the way but never backing down.
Gorecki says she could have played soccer at the collegiate level. But she gave up that sport to concentrate on hoops.
Good call. By the time she was a senior at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Gorecki was a national recruiting target, a Parade All-America, the Gatorade Illinois player of the year and a member of the National Honor Society.
“It sounds like a cliché, but it just felt like home. I loved everything about the school.”
She played 14 games in 2015-16, averaging 4.5 points per game. But she missed the second half of the season right a right-hip injury.
Gorecki calls the injury “weird.” It’s nothing congenital. She never had any health problems in high school. There was no traumatic episode, no collision, no fall. It just started hurting and kept getting worse.
Gorecki thinks it was an inevitable consequence of playing so many sports growing up.
The injury required surgery. She might have been able to play late in 2016-17, but her 14 games the previous season was too many for a medical hardship and Duke didn’t think it was fair to ask her to play another partial season.
She also had shoulder surgery.
Gorecki sat on the bench “listening to the coaches, seeing how they responded to different situations. I learned a lot.”
Gorecki came back hale and hearty for the 2017-18 season.
For a while.
Sharing time on the perimeter with grad-students Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell, Gorecki saw her playing time and effectiveness increase. She scored 20 points against Winthrop, 25 at Louisville, 28 at Virginia Tech, 29 at North Carolina. Gorecki averaged 17 points per game over an 11-game span.
But the pains started again, this time the other hip. She tried to fight through it but had to undergo another surgery.
Gorecki describes rehab as “a grind” but says she came back stronger, fitter and motivated to make up for lost time.
It’s an understatement to say that Duke has asked her to do a lot this season. Brown and Greenwell graduated, Kyra Lambert has missed her second consecutive season with ACL injuries and Mikalya Boykin was sidelined for the season with an ACL injury.
What hasn’t Gorecki done?
She’s become a leader for a young team.
“I’m super-competitive. I’m hard on myself. I hate losing. But I’m not a yeller. I lead by example. I try to teach work ethic and dedication. I’m open to any questions. I try to be approachable.”
She’s 6-0 tall and plays on the perimeter. But she leads Duke with over seven rebounds per game, with a high of 14.
How does that happen?
“I think our post players do a good job about boxing out, and I guess I’m just kind of there in the middle, whether it’s a long shot, long rebound. I don’t know, it’s just going and getting it I guess; knowing where the shot is going to come off.”
In the absence of natural point-guards Lambert and Boykin, Gorecki has assumed more play-making responsibilities.
“I love being able to put my teammates in a position to be successful. I’m a good passer; I see the floor well.”
Gorecki leads Duke with around four assists per game.
😈 Leads ACC in guard double-doubles (7).— Duke Women’s Basketball (@DukeWBB) February 14, 2019
🔵 Only player in the ACC in top-15 in PTS, REB, STL and AST.
😈 (Still) the only player in P5 to average over 17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg and 3.0 spg.
🔵 Only player in the ACC to avg. 21.0+ ppg and 7.0+ rpg against ranked teams. pic.twitter.com/5lQfptcwbN
She also leads the team in steals.
And she can score, at all levels, in half-court and transition. She attacks the basket relentlessly.
She leads the team in scoring, at 18.0 points per game.
No Duke woman has ever led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists for a season. Only Danny Ferry (1987) has accomplished that for the men’s team.
Gorecki had the school’s eighth triple-double against Pittsburgh on February 10, 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Over the last five contests, @HaleyGorecki has averaged 21.0 PTS, 8.8 REB, 6.0 AST and 3.0 STL.— Duke Women’s Basketball (@DukeWBB) February 7, 2019
vs. Cuse: 26 points, 10 rebounds
vs. Wake: 14 points, 6 assists
vs. BC: 24 points, 14 rebounds
vs. FSU: 25 points, 6 assists
vs. Pitt: 16 points, 10 reb, 10 ast
When asked about it, she praised her teammates for making the assists easy.
“It’s awesome, especially for me personally the assists because being able to play with my team is awesome.”
She acknowledges some areas that need improvement.
“I can play defense better. I’m stubborn. I try to force things. I need to slow down.”
Gorecki says she can rely on head coach Joanne P. McCallie to help her iron out her flaws.
“She’s such a competitor. She pushes me every day in practice. She doesn’t acknowledge any limitations.”
She doesn’t rest. Gorecki is averaging ACC-best 36.2 minutes per game -- that leads the team, of course--and played all 50 minutes in an agonizing double-overtime loss at Boston College.
A few days later, she had that triple-double.
McCallie was impressed.
“I want to know who has played 50 minutes and followed the next game with a triple-double. I think that might be an extraordinary stat to look at. I was concerned for Haley in terms of body and banging, and I thought that she handled that well.”
Opposing coaches certainly have noticed.
Gorecki had 28 points and 10 rebounds in an upset win at North Carolina.
Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell called Gorecki “a great offensive player, a great scorer. She just keeps attacking, keeps on pounding at you. She’s just a complete player.”
Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks was even more effusive after Gorecki scored 26 points, with eight rebounds against his team.
“I can honestly say, Haley is my favorite player to watch. The little nuances that she has, getting open, catching the ball, she plays at her own pace. You can’t speed her up. You can tell the kids, “Hey she’s going to get the middle and pump-fake but stay down.” Then they watch film, they see it, they know it. What does she do? She gets in the middle, she pump-fakes, they fly by, and she scores at her pace. She kind of reminds me of a Steph Curry. She plays at her own pace, she’s a terrific passer, her vision is unbelievable.”
Gorecki’s brilliance hasn’t always been enough to carry Duke over the finish line, as injuries, youth and inconsistency have led to numerous close losses.
“It’s frustrating,” she acknowledges. “nobody is going to say ‘I love losing.’ You have to take every loss as a lesson. I can’t have a discouraging mindset.”
McCallie praises Gorecki.
“She’s the talented player with the grit. Sometimes you have the talented player with no grit and sometimes you have grit and no talent. Well she’s got both, she wants to win, she wants to be successful, that’s what matters to her the most.”
Gorecki’s set to graduate this spring, with a degree in psychology but says she’ll be back next season for her fifth year, whether as a grad student or working on a second degree.
Post-playing career? Something in sports, maybe sports marketing. But Gorecki does not see coaching in her future.
But first, there’s work to be done.
“I think we’re super talented. We can make a super move down the stretch.”
If so, it will be fueled by the super-talented Gorecki.