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Unleashed: Saluting The “Engine” Of Women’s Basketball
Release: 04/02/2014
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Selfless, adaptable Mercedes Wetmore played her UW-record 126th and final game for the Huskies Monday night. That was after being their remarkably efficient point guard for three consecutive 20-win seasons – for three head coaches. Now, it’s directly to softball. “I’m very lucky,” she says. So are the Huskies.

By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing

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SEATTLE – The Huskies’ record holder for women’s basketball games played in a career is disappointed. But she’s not inconsolable that Washington’s season and her remarkable hoops career is over.

No way. Mercedes Wetmore is too driven, too selfless, too adaptable, to pause and pity herself.

“I’m going right into softball. I’ll be a practice tomorrow with the softball team,” the soul of UW women’s basketball told me over the phone from the Phoenix airport Tuesday.

“I’m so excited.”

Softball coach Heather Tarr is so impressed with Wetmore’s leadership, her winner’s mentality, she is having Wetmore join that team midway through the season for the second consecutive spring. In 2013 Wetmore was mostly a pinch-runner, yet she instantly became a softball favorite and helped motivate her new teammates all the way into the Women’s College World Series.

“That was one of my dreams as a little kid,” the native of Lake Tapps, Wash., about 45 minutes southeast of Seattle, said.

We were speaking as Wetmore and the basketball team were returning home about 15 hours after UW’s point guard finished that career in typical fashion – overlooked game highs of six assists and 38 minutes. But the Huskies (20-14) lost at Texas-El Paso in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

“We were disappointed. But in the locker room we all looked at each other knowing we can be proud with the way we came together this season,” she said of the Huskies’ third consecutive 20-win season.

Wetmore has been the starting point guard for all three of those 20-win seasons, setting the school record with 126 games played while making sure Jazmine Davis and Kelsey Plum got the ball enough and in the right spots to be two of the last three Pac-12 freshmen of the year.

This is the first time UW has 20 victories in three straight years since it won 20 in seven consecutive seasons from 1984-85 to ‘90-91. Wetmore has been the starting point guard for all three of those 20-win seasons, setting the school record with 126 games played while making sure Jazmine Davis and Kelsey Plum got the ball enough and in the right spots to be two of the last three Pac-12 freshmen of the year.

“It’s sad for it to come to an end. But I’m also glad to know I was one of the last seniors to be playing in college basketball this season,” Wetmore said. “In the game today everything is so focused on scoring, I get that. But it takes teammates relying on each other, whether you are scoring or not, for a team to be as successful as it can be.”

Where does she get all this philosophy and perspective? Well, Wetmore played for four coaches in four years at UW.

That’s three in basketball, including the unique and great Mike Neighbors, who just finished his first season as a college hoops head man, plus Tarr in softball.

“Yeah, I’m pretty easy to adapt,” she said with a laugh. “I had three high-school coaches, too.”

Wait ... six coaches in the last eight years of basketball?

“That’s crazy, huh?” she said. “I have enough philosophy, I’ll tell you that.

“I’ve seen everything.”

Oh, one other, not-so-small thing she’s seen a lot of: Her books.

Last week the Pac-12 recognized how good Wetmore is off the floor, too. The league gave her a second team all-academic honor. Wetmore has a cool 3.46 grade-point average. She will earn a communications degree upon graduation this spring. She wants to pursue a career in real estate -- and as an entrepreneur.

She says immediately after she graduates in June “I am going to go on a rampage of investing and entrepreneurship” with the financial backing of her father Dave. He wrestled at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

His daughter says she wants to scour Pierce County and “buy up rental houses, apartments.

“Basically, I just want to play Monopoly,” she said. “You ever see the show ‘Shark Tank’? I’m going to be one of those (investor) sharks.

“My dad calls me ‘Mrs. Trump.’”

With her initiative and restlessness, I'm guessing she'll make one heck of a “shark.”


There is a picture from last month’s immediate aftermath of the Huskies upsetting No. 3 Stanford at Alaska Airlines Arena, with Wetmore in UW’s special, pink uniform roaring among giddy teammates. She says it is her best day in four years as a Husky.

The photo perfectly captures not only that Sunday celebration but the spirit of one of the more remarkable players Washington women's basketball has had in a while.

“Something that stands out about that is, we were sitting in the locker room before the game and Coach ‘Neighbs’ says to us, ‘I want you to think about where you are going to go celebrating after we go win this game,’” Wetmore said.

So what that Stanford was coming into Alaska Airlines Arena having won 62 consecutive road conference games.

“It was the same thing at halftime (when UW led by seven points),” Wetmore said. “He said, ‘So where are y’all going to be celebrating?’ It wasn’t about Stanford. It was about what we were going to do to celebrate winning.”

Wetmore? She exalted. The 5-foot-8 point guard played her finest game as a Husky that afternoon on national television: careers highs of 18 points and eight rebounds, plus four assists and no turnovers while playing all 40 minutes of the Huskies’ stunning, 87-82 win over a Cardinal team now back in the Final Four.

Last week the dynamo teammates have called "our engine" passed Giuliana Mendiola for the Huskies' record in games played. She scored 10 points and again provided many of the key plays that don't jump out of the box score in Washington's 62-55, WNIT win over San Diego.

That was Wetmore's final UW home game. Sure, she's been overshadowed by Plum, this season’s record-setting freshman scorer, and Davis, the all-Pac-12 slasher and shooter, in the Huskies' prolific backcourt. But Wetmore is not unappreciated -- at least not by her teammates, coaches and anyone who has followed her career since she came out of Auburn Riverside High School in 2010 as an all-state point guard and Washington state champion.

Again, that was three Huskies head coaches ago.

Tia Jackson recruited Wetmore and coached her through her freshman season. Kevin McGuff then came from Xavier in April 2011 and changed everything Wetmore and the Huskies knew -- from grueling practices to how they ate. McGuff also made Wetmore his team's trigger, beginning a string of her starting 66 times in 67 games over two seasons.

Then last spring McGuff abruptly bolted back to his home state after two seasons leading UW, to accept a lucrative offer to coach Ohio State.

“I wasn’t expecting a third college coach,” Wetmore deadpanned.

Neighbors got the promotion off McGuff's staff into his first head-coaching job at UW -- and made some more changes to practices and schemes.

Meanwhile, McGuff and Neighbors signed Davis, Plum and Katie Collier. Davis was the Pac-12's freshman of the year two seasons ago and also considers herself a point guard. Plum, another headstrong guard, and low-post Collier are the first two McDonald's High School All-Americans to play women's basketball at Washington.

Yet through it all, Wetmore dutifully adapted. She led, supported and soldiered on. She started 100 of her last 101 games for the Huskies. Her only miss was when she was knocked out last season by a bad flu.

Must have been an awful one to keep her out of a game.

“I love how much I’ve grown, and I’ve learned there’s so much more than meets the eye when a team is out on the floor."

When the Huskies needed her to drive and score, Wetmore did that. When Davis and then Plum arrived, they needed her to defer and feed to thrive. Plum broke the school's scoring record this season, and Davis made UW's one of the two highest-scoring backcourts in the country.

Someone had to ensure they got the ball. That was Wetmore -- and Washington won 44 games over two seasons.

Before Wetmore got to UW, it took the Huskies the previous four seasons to win 44 games.

The starter with the highest 3-point shooting percentage this season for UW? That was Wetmore, at 37.7 percent.

The only player on either team to play all 40 minutes last week while Washington outlasted tiring San Diego in the WNIT? Yep, Wetmore. This season she ranked second in the Pac-12 in minutes played. She played all 40 minutes in 14 of 18 conference games.

Wetmore ranked second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and fourth in assists.

As usual, she did far more than score 10 points in her final home game last week. She consistently fed Plum, Davis and Talia Walton for open looks. Despite being one of the shorter players on the floor – again -- she pulled down more rebounds; she averaged 3.6 of those per game this season. Wetmore even blocked a shot, her fourth block this season, then converted a pass from Davis for a layup in the first half that gave the Huskies their largest lead on San Diego, 25-16.

After USD tied the game for the sixth time, at 49 with 6 minutes left, Wetmore came up with a huge steal. UW stayed ahead from there, aided by Wetmore's two free throws with 2:42 remaining. Those put the Huskies up 53-49. San Diego never got closer after that, and UW advanced to the quarterfinals.

Wetmore finished with 144 assists to 70 turnovers in 34 games, better than the 2:1 ratio that coaches consider very good. Her 105 assists to 56 turnovers in her junior regular season of 2012-13 led the Pac-12.

“She's our engine,” then-senior leader Kristi Kingma said last spring of Wetmore.

“Mercedes is immensely important to us. She can score; she knows that. But for the good of the team she makes Jaz and myself and others look good.”

Wetmore entered UW with a scorer's mentality, after starring at Auburn Riverside south of Seattle. Then became the Huskies' indispensable assists leader. Generally, the Huskies won when Wetmore succeeded in pushing the ball into the lane then kicking passes outside to Kingma, Plum, Davis and Walton.

The ever-pressing Wetmore said she has studied statistical trends among the top scorers in women's college and professional basketball. She has found the percentage of points scored in one-on-one, isolation matchups is surprisingly low. Most of the points are scored by kick-out passes or other assists created off dribble penetration.

The research reinforced to Wetmore the importance of handling the ball into the lane as if to score, then passing to the Huskies' shooters.

"I do pride myself on giving this team a lot of chances to score," she told me last season. "I can score if I need to, but it's more about getting everyone else going."

Now, however, to say goodbye to the basketball Wetmore and hello to the softball – and yes, “shark” Mercedes -- it’s finally about giving No. 1 her due.

She’s been the consummate teammate and student, a leader in both saying and doing. Never complaining. Always striving.

Those are traits that will serve her far beyond UW just as splendidly as they did while she was here.

“Personally, looking back just on the whole experience, I wouldn’t change anything,” Wetmore said. “I love how much I’ve grown, and I’ve learned there’s so much more than meets the eye when a team is out on the floor.

“A lot gets talked about my selflessness. Yeah, OK, I try to be selfless. But it’s not just me. I think that’s something this team will carry on without me.

 “I’m so lucky. I’m lucky to have had this experience. And I’m already thinking about getting back to that (softball) World Series.

“Let’s go!”

Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for the Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000. 

Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on each Wednesday.

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