Nearly a year ago, Shaylee Gonzales had a lot on her mind. As a 22-year-old who was in college during the COVID-19 pandemic, she had the luxury of an extra year of basketball … the only question was deciding what exactly she wanted to do with it.
Gonzales was blessed; she was already generating WNBA buzz and could have potentially finished school and entered the draft last season if she’d really wanted to. But everyone — her family, her trainers, her coaches and herself — knew the time wasn’t right. Now, as the end of the NCAA season looms and those all-important four letters keep popping up everywhere, Gonzales is yet again at a crossroads.
But wait: we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Gonzales is in her fifth year of school and is spending it at the University of Texas-Austin, where she transferred after enjoying plenty of success at Brigham Young University. While she loved her time at BYU, Gonzales was hungry for something new and Texas has more than delivered. She’s quick to point out that she had to learn a lot — and learn it quickly — nearly as soon as she arrived, especially after teammate Rori Harmon injured her foot and left a hole in the team’s lineup.
Gonzales has amassed an impressive online following via social media, a group that really picked up after she endured her own injury back in 2019. She tore her ACL, an injury that would come to define her life on the court, resulting in missing months of play, and off the court, giving her the opportunity to document her recovery on YouTube and Instagram. The injury also allowed her plenty of reflection, and she knew what kind of work would be required of her following Harmon’s foot injury — whether she was ready for that work or not.
Fortunately, Gonzales had worked with Tremaine Dalton of The Process Basketball ahead of her season with UT, and the two spent significant time playing to her strengths. As Dalton says, “We came into it knowing she plays a two and three, and a lot of our work was half court to prepare her for that role in Texas. When Shaylee moved into Rori’s role, it was obvious in the beginning that playing a point guard was foreign — not that she wasn’t good at it, but it was new to her, especially at that level and that pace. Once Rori came back, she and Shaylee were able to counter off each other. It’s clear now that Shaylee is doing well in her natural position.”
When talking about that time period now, it’s even a little funny. Gonzales laughs and admits, “I didn’t want to move into Rori’s spot” but knew that she had to for the team. Previously comfortable as a combination guard (two and three), she quickly moved into the point guard and began running plays. It took a cycle or two to find a groove, but Gonzales took off and did what Texas needed her to do, period.
In some ways, Gonzales is similar to one of her favorite players, the Aces’ Kelsey Plum. Gonzales cites Plum’s ability — “She’s quick and efficient, and I love watching her play” — as a major reason why she gravitates to the 5-foot-8 guard. The energy in her face as she describes watching Plum play is tangible; clearly, Gonzales is looking up to some of the best.
When it comes to her own career, Gonzales is clearly already thinking about what might happen this spring, and maybe even this summer. Gonzales is coy, clearly unwilling (or perhaps unable) to be specific, but anyone involved with NCAA basketball knows the options available: another year with her team, or the WNBA draft.
She smiles when asked directly what her plans are, pauses, and muses, “I’m not sure. I’m taking it day by day.” She then adds, “If we make it to the NCAA Final Four, I’m spending another year in school.” UT was No. 13 in the NCAA selection committee’s Thursday Top 16 reveal (so a No. 4 seed). The reason the Longhorns weren’t higher is that they failed to live up to expectations early this season. But they were No. 3 in the nation in the preseason and head coach Vic Schaefer has gotten them to the Elite Eight both of the last two seasons (and one of those years they were a No. 6 seed), so the Final Four is still a realistic goal.
Gonzales then makes one thing crystal clear: her one and only goal after she leaves college — whether that year is 2023 or 2024?