Mael Gilles is just glad she doesn’t have to pack up her life again and move in her first experience in professional basketball.
The former Arizona State forward is unlike the four other rookies at camp as she can comfortably live in her dorm room 20 minutes away from the Phoenix Mercury’s practice facility.
Gilles is grateful for the short commute as she figures out her next steps following the conclusion of her final college season at ASU. The Montreal native isn’t a stranger to moving across the continent as she became a first timer on the West Coast when she transferred from Rutgers after four seasons to play at ASU.
“I’m so speechless. I’m learning so much every day, especially having Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles, and Skylar Diggins-Smith with me. I think I’m learning so much and with the information they are giving me to me, I’m trying my best to take it all in and try to apply it. It’s really has been a pleasure and a blessing just to be around all these people, managers, coaches, I feel like it feels like family to me,” Gilles said.
The tightknit women’s basketball community in the Phoenix area is one of the main reasons why Gilles is at the camp. Recently retired ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne instantly made a connection with Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard when Nygaard got the job in late January. That relationship between the two helped Gilles become a candidate for one of the openings at training camp.
“As soon as I got hired, Charli was still the ASU coach, but she called and welcomed me to the Valley and has been a great resource for me as well. She’s come out and watched a couple of practices as well,” Nygaard said.
Under Turner Thorne, Gilles excelled in his final season of college basketball and set new personal marks in points (9.88), rebounds (7.72), and blocks (29) through 25 games. Gilles was an honorable mention for the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team after finishing the regular season in the top 10 in the conference in rebounding (7.78), steals (1.83), offensive rebounds (2.61), defensive rebounds (5.17), and blocks (1.22).
What makes Gilles’ season even more remarkable is how she dealt with adversity. Injuries at the forwards group caused the 6’1” Gilles to switch from small forward to center early in the season. The changes didn’t deter Gilles’ game as she led the team’s rebounding and had the second-most shot attempts on the team.
But even with improvements made in her game over the last season, Gilles has been understandably wide-eyed as she now trains alongside Taurasi, Charles, and Diggins-Smith.
However, when it comes to training, Gilles is focused on making the right tweaks to her game and learning from the best when she can. Charles has been a great example for Gilles as watching her game on the court has been “mind blowing.” Seeing the best and hearing their input has grown Gilles’ game in a short amount of time.
And as surreal as the experience has been for someone not long removed from playing in college, moments shared with the veteran players have helped Gilles understand that even the best in the game are relatable. Even a player like Taurasi isn’t so different from her.
“It’s crazy because before I had the chance to meet her, I just felt like she was a superstar or whatever. It almost felt like she wasn’t an actual person and every day I try to pick her brain more,” Gilles said. “I asked her, ‘Do you ever have doubts and fears?’ She’s like, ‘Of course. I’m human like everybody else.’ Like you’re a person just like me! It just felt so normal and it’s so great to just pick her brain here and there.”
— Charli Turner Thorne was present at Thursday’s practice and was talking with Nygaard about defense. “I would be not a smart coach to not capitalize on a defensive expert,” Nygaard said.
— Shey Peddy, Diamond DeShields, and Brianna Turner have been absent from training camp all week due to overseas commitments. Peddy will be back to camp within the next few days to a week according to general manager Jim Pitman. DeShields and Turner will have a longer absence depending on how their Italian team performs. The Mercury are currently “planning for all possibilities” as it could be a couple of weeks away before DeShields and Turner return. Opening night is set for May 6, which is two weeks away.
—Macee Williams, a 2022 third-round selection, was waived by the team Thursday. The forward from IUPUI was selected No. 32 overall.
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