Laura Stockton always knew she was going to play competitive basketball again somewhere.
She’s the daughter of an NBA Hall of Famer, a member of the region’s most well-known basketball family – it’s what she does. She plays.
“Oh, yeah, that’s totally always been the plan,” Stockton said. “It’s always been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I knew I wanted to keep playing. I wanted to play college and then I wanted to be a pro at some level or another.”
A gruesome, season-ending ACL tear in the West Coast Conference Tournament her senior year in 2019 didn’t preclude that dream. It just delayed it a little.
Now, after more than a year of rehab – a period which Stockton admitted was the longest she’s gone without playing competitive basketball – she’s ready to go. On Friday, Herner TC, a German team that plays in the Bundesliga, announced that Stockton had signed a deal to join the squad for the upcoming season.
Last season, Herner TC finished third in the Bundesliga with a 13-8 record when the season was cancelled, but won the Bundesliga title and German Cup in 2019.
Stockton agreed to the deal three months ago, but the team waited to announce it, as it does with most new signings. In the meantime, she had to keep it secret from almost everyone except for family and close friends.
Former Zags Sunny Greinacher and Haiden Palmer both played for the club previously, but Stockton said she didn’t need to talk to them to know it was the right move. The fact that they both played on the team was enough indication for her.
“Once I heard that they were on the team, I was like, ‘Oh, this is legit.’ … I felt confident,” she said.
“I am delighted to have Laura on our team,” Herner TC coach Marek Piotrowski said in the team’s statement. “During her time at Gonzaga, she proved that she can lead a team at a higher level.”
Over those four years at Gonzaga, three while filling starting point guard duties, Stockton amassed 459 assists – good for third all time in the program.
She led the team in assists each of those final three years, earning All-WCC first-team, All-WCC Honorable Mention and WCC All-Tournament honors in the same span.
“I never doubted that she would be back better than ever,” said Stockton’s former coach, Lisa Fortier. “She has continued to work over the past year, and her club is going to be very happy with her. She is a competitor and a winner, and she always finds a way.”
The clever passing is a staple, a knack that will endear her to her new team rapidly. Perhaps it’s even partially expected from someone with her last name. But if you ask Stockton, the rehab process also made her a more dangerous shooter.
“It’s definitely been a good opportunity for me to just really get down to basics and work on some of the stuff that I was lacking in before,” Stockton said. “I’ve never been known as a shooter, but through the rehab I wasn’t able to do a lot of the physical stuff, so it was a lot of straight shooting in the gym … I feel super confident in that now.”
Mike Nilson, Gonzaga women’s basketball’s trainer and Stockton’s trainer during her rehab, has seen that firsthand.
“No one ever wants to get injured, but the people with the right mindset would turn the lemons into lemonade,” Nilson said. “And I think that’s what she really did.
“She just put in the hard work … A lot of it was just, ‘What can I do instead of focusing on what you can’t do?’ She’s not only become a better shooter, but she’s stronger. She’s moving better.”
Stockton said she and Nilson, who also experienced a season-ending injury during his own time in a Bulldogs uniform, “totally bonded” over their experiences. By coincidence, both suffered injuries in the first round of the WCC Tournament in games against Saint Mary’s. Nilson also played professionally in Europe after recovering from his injury.
“I think it does kind of at least put us in that same category of when I say, ‘Hey, I’m so sorry,’ she knows that I’m in a place where I’ve been there,” Nilson said. “Because I was able to rehab and get stronger. And then I had a nice career over in Europe, too. I’m hopeful that her career will be a lot longer than mine.”
There’s certainly precedent for the move to Germany amongst Stockton’s own family. Her older siblings Michael, David and Lindsay have all played in the basketball Bundesliga. Frequent visits to see them warmed her up to the idea of living there one day.
“I really love the history, the old buildings, the castles,” she said. “I’m a big food connoisseur, so I love their food.”
Stockton doesn’t need to know German to get by once she’s there – most Germans speak English, especially in basketball circles. But she said she has still been practicing German on the language-learning app Duolingo.
“I want to fit in there and try not to be the annoying American that doesn’t even try,” she said.
Before Stockton departs for Germany in September, she has to take a test for COVID-19 and quarantine until she receives the result. She’s been working on additional paperwork she needs along with her passport to make the trip possible.
“It’s a lot,” she said, noting that the ends justify the means.
For her first time living somewhere other than Spokane since she was 6 years old, the thought of something new doesn’t rattle Stockton much.
“I’m excited to go somewhere new,” she said. “It’s obviously tough with COVID and everything, but I can’t help but be excited.”
“It’s difficult,” Nilson said, recounting his own first experiences alone on another continent. “You not only miss your family, but Gonzaga’s a huge community. It takes awhile to be able to kind of get in the swing of things.
“But I don’t doubt that she’s going to have a great time and be successful because she’ll make it over the hump.
“That’s what you have to do. And just be excited for the adventure, because it’s definitely going to be something.”
Connor Gilbert can be reached at (509) 481-3375 or at email@example.com.
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