Feature Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Action Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
The United States loves the game of basketball, it’s high-flying, electrifying plays make for highlights upon highlights on your sports station of choice. What Americans may not realize is that basketball has also been adopted and beloved by another continent, Europe. Not only do Europeans follow the professionals in America, but also the pro ballers in their home countries. You could go anywhere in Europe, find the most unlikely of cities across its vast landscape and they’re likely playing basketball.
Michelle Gaislerova was one of those European residents with their pulse on the game as a player and fan. The sophomore just completed a historic season for Bison women’s hoops in 2018-19, her third year living in the United States. A native of Trutnov, Czech Republic, a city of just over 31,000 people, Gaislerova grew up around the game. The country is known for its competitive professional basketball leagues. In fact, it’s one of the most competitive in Europe. Trutnov lies in northern Czech Republic, only a few hours away from Prague and the German and Polish borders.
Gaislerova grew up playing for club teams in and around Trutnov as European basketball is designed a little differently than in America. There are no high school teams, only club teams in most European countries. When she was about to enter her senior year of high school in Trutnov, Gaislerova played with an American on her club team. Knowing she wanted to play college basketball in America, Gaislerova learned that it may be more beneficial to complete her prep career in America as well. She was already a highly-touted recruit, averaging 24 points and seven rebounds for her club team and also playing on the under-17, under-18 and under-20 Czech National Teams.
“I didn’t really plan to come for my senior year, but I always wanted to play college basketball. Back home in my former club, I was playing with a girl who was from Nebraska and who already went through college basketball and she was now playing in Europe,” Gaislerova said. “She was my teammate and we talked a lot about me going to play college and she just kind of suggested to come for my senior year, live in Nebraska for a year and get used to everything and the transition, get better at English. Her family offered for me to stay with them and it just made it all really easy to decide to come.”
So that is what Michelle Gaislerova did, she moved to the United States before her senior year of high school, not knowing much English and coming by herself. Gaislerova would be playing at Lincoln Christian High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. While she wouldn’t characterize that year as “eye-opening” some of the slight differences were new to Gaislerova. “The schedule in high school was different. Obviously, just a different season because back home, we play club from September till May,” she said. “Then I came to Nebraska and I played AAU for the first couple months and then the high school season was way shorter than what I was used to and then AAU again. Otherwise, I think it was pretty similar to what I was doing before.”
Still, her senior season in Nebraska was a needed one for Gaislerova. She averaged nearly 15 points for Lincoln Christian and the team won the 2017 Class C-1 title. Along with that, a year to get acclimated to America before embarking on her college journey was necessary for Gaislerova. “It definitely made things easier. One big thing was that I was away from my family so I got used to that feeling during high school,” she said. “When I came to NDSU, everything was much easier in that regard. Just being in a different environment and going through that culture shock a bit, finding new friends too.”
Upon coming to Fargo two years ago, Gaislerova made an immediate impact for Maren Walseth and the Bison. She averaged just under 10 points per game, playing in 29 games and playing 19 minutes a game. A hallmark of her game has always been the three-point shot and she hit 42 percent of her threes attempted in her freshman year. All in all, Gaislerova shot a scorching 46 percent from the field. It was evident that she was a budding offensive threat for North Dakota State.
Yet, Gaislerova is quick to note that the European style of basketball is much different than America’s version of the game. That adjustment is still something she is working on in Fargo. “American basketball is much more physical so that was something I really had to adjust to and I’m still trying to make that transition. Also, just the structure of the season because the college season is different, we only play from November till the beginning of March,” she said. “We have preseason, we have postseason, so there is just a different structure. We also play more games in a row like we can have three games in a week, but back home we would only play one. So the practices are different and the physicality and I would also say the level of plays and call sets is more structured as well.”
The Trutnov native began to assert her dominance this past season for the Bison. She averaged a team-high 14.8 points per game to go along with shooting 40 percent from the field and from deep. Add to that, an impressive 92 percent clip from the free throw line. Gaislerova netted 75 triples in her sophomore season, placing her third on NDSU’s all-time list in three-pointers made in a season. In total, Gaislerova has made 125 three-pointers in her young NDSU career. With two seasons left, there is no reason to believe she won’t challenge the school record set by Taylor Thunstedt (278 career triples) by her senior season.
Gaislerova has also been able to find some common ground within the NDSU roster. This past season, the Bison had five international student-athletes on their roster. In 2019-20, they will have four (Gaislerova included). She finds that to be welcoming and has made her transition to the collegiate game easier. “It’s great, I feel like we have a lot in common and we can talk about things we understand better,” she said. “It also makes the transition a little easier because if there is something we’re not used to, we can talk about it and discuss how we can change it to get better.”
Bison women’s basketball is facing a crossroads heading into the summer. The school and head coach Maren Walseth mutually parted ways shortly after the season ended. In turn, the roster went ahead without a head coach for a month and a half. New head coach Jory Collins was hired on April 29, ushering in a new era of Bison women’s basketball. With most of their team returning for 2019-20, Gaislerova feels it’s necessary to rely on her relationships with her fellow teammates in this transitional period. “It’s one of the most important things because it’s really important that you’re on the same page on and off the floor. Especially when we didn’t have a head coach and we didn’t really know what was going to happen and that’s the reason we need to be together,” she said. “I think we’re doing a great job sticking together, talking through things and going in the same direction.”
That is not to say she is not excited about next year though. The young Bison roster has the potential to climb the Summit League ladder in Gaislerova’s junior season. “I’m really excited about us being together because we didn’t lose a lot of people, which is great for us. I love being around my teammates,” she said. “So I’m really excited to get to work with the people I know and that we can take another step forward and get better because that is what the offseasons are for, of course.”
While she has proven to be an extremely efficient and effective offensive weapon, Gaislerova still has areas to improve upon this offseason. As she touched upon earlier, it’s fully adjusting to the physicality of American basketball and getting sharper on the defensive end. “We’ve already discussed what we want to work on this offseason and for me, it would be defense and ball control so I can improve my game another step. Those are probably the two most important focus points,” she said.
Everything she does on the floor is impressive, but what is most impressive about Gaislerova is what she has accomplished in the classroom at NDSU. She was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-District First Team this year. Gaislerova currently holds a 4.0 GPA in journalism. Meaning, that it won’t be long until she is writing the stories for this very magazine. “When I was younger, I just always enjoyed writing and when I was much younger, I had one of those blogs to just kind of write your everyday life. I always enjoyed it and when I was deciding my college major, I realized that a major in journalism would be really cool and I just found that the sports side of it is really cool,” she said. “Like I have a lot of fun writing about basketball and getting more information in that field. That’s what I’ve been doing the last four years, writing about basketball for a website back home and I love it, so I decided to actually major in journalism.”
Gaislerova got to cover the Final Four in Minneapolis this year and has been to countless other sporting events thanks to her prowess for journalism. Safe to say, she not only has the chops on the court but off it as well. While she wants to play professionally after college, Gaislerova says she would take a good journalism job here in America if it were offered to her.
Michelle Gaislerova went from her home country of the Czech Republic to Nebraska to Fargo in a three-year span. While many would struggle with that amount of moving and change in surroundings, Gaislerova has proven that she is capable of thriving wherever she is at. Do not be surprised to see her taking over the Summit League and taking over a newspaper or magazine near you too.