January 24, 2023 

What does it take to be a successful sixth woman? Just ask San Francisco’s Jasmine Gayles

'Jasmine is the perfect sixth player — she's unselfish and wants to do everything she can to help the team win'

Every basketball team is full of players who fill different roles. Most teams have a star player who makes the team go. A lot of teams have a physical bruising player who rebounds and plays tough defense. Many teams have shooters whose sole job is to stand in the corner and knock down open threes. One role that is incredibly difficult and therefore, very few teams are able to find is a quality sixth woman. However, if you ask San Francisco’s Jasmine Gayles, it’s a role she enjoys and has been able to thrive in.

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Gayles, a native of Seattle, Washington, started her college career at Northern Colorado. After two seasons in Greeley, Gayles decided she wanted something different and hit the transfer portal. Gayles had been interested in San Francisco coming out of high school and was looking for a similar city feel to her hometown of Seattle. So when USF came calling, it was an easy choice.

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“I think when I was in the portal, I just felt like I was able to connect with the coaching staff and the players really well and I felt that their system was one that I could get into and grow from,” Gayles told The Next.“The location was a big thing for me, you know, I didn’t want to necessarily be home but wanted to be somewhere similar somewhere with a city feel. And I think that San Francisco, you know, provides a lot of opportunities outside of just basketball.”

When Gayles first arrived at USF, she had no idea what her role was going to be. She had been a two-year starter at Northern Colorado but knew the Dons had a lot of stellar guards already on the roster. Gayles didn’t really care what role she played and trusted in the coaches to put her in the best position possible. That trust paid off in a major way.

1/14/23: USF WBB vs. SMC at War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center in San Francisco, CA. Photo Credit: Chris M. Leung for USF Dons Athletics

In her first game as a Don, Gayles scored 19 points on eight of nine shooting from the floor and hit two threes in 25 minutes off the bench. In fact, to start her USF career, she scored in double figures in the first five games of the year. She came off the bench in all those games and played for at least 25 minutes.

“I definitely credit my success to my teammates; they just empower me really well. I come in and the game has a pretty good flow and I know what my role is to do,” Gayles said. “My teammates are just really good people to play with, really fun people to play with. They’re all really talented. We know how to put each other in positions to succeed. I think that they just have just put us really well in a foundation of what our team is supposed to be like so it makes it an easy job.”

By the time her first season by the bay ended, Gayles had scored in double figures in 18 of the teams’ 33 games. Of those 18, eight of them, she scored at least 20, including a career-high 28 against Santa Clara. Her previous career high at Northern Colorado was 22. She averaged 11.6 points in her first year on the hilltop, matching her scoring average the previous season at UNCO. That scoring average was good for second-best on the Dons last season.

So, what allows players like Gayles to find such a high level of success in her sixth woman role? According to her head coach Molly Goodenbour, it takes a high level of unselfishness and caring more about team success than anything else. Goodenbour, a star guard at Stanford, has played and coached with many different players and feels Gayles has the perfect mindset for the role.

“I think she’s got a quiet confidence about her. She’s never somebody that will be boastful about herself at all, but I do sense that she has a quiet confidence in her ability to perform successfully to get the job done and I tremendously respect that. I think she’s a really hard worker,” Goodenbour told The Next. “I think she is a consummate teammate; she wants the team to be successful when she’s really put team before self and in every sense of what she does, you know, from just a willingness to do anything. A willingness to dive on the floor, willingness to go rebound a willingness to you know, she’s become a tremendously better defender year that she’s been in the program just, you know, wanting to do whatever she can do to make the team successful.”

For Gayles, she says not starting allows her to watch the flow of the game in a way that starters don’t get to and figure out how she can best impact the game as it develops. By not starting, she can see where her presence is most needed once she does enter the game. Whether offensively, defensively, or even on the glass, Gayles can see where her team is struggling and come in and affect the game most on that side of the ball.

Jasmine Gayles surveys the floor in San Francisco home game against USC. Photo Credit: Chris M. Leung

“I think what has helped me in that the most is probably just the energy piece. I know that I need to come in and bring aggressiveness and energy. They kind of get into rhythm and my job is to throw off that rhythm for the other team whether. I know a lot of teams don’t expect like rebounding from the guard position or things like that, just something that can kind of throw them off of what’s the rhythm that’s in the game,” Gayles said. “I think when we play other teams, that’s one thing that is really difficult for us is when someone coming off the bench that can bring energy. For me I just want to do the best I can in that and just bring something new to the game, kind of making things difficult.”

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For Goodenbour and her staff, Gayles is their security blanket. She knows what Gayles will bring to the table from the bench since she has been doing it consistently for two years now. Goodenbour knows how hard a worker Gayles is and considers her the strongest female student-athlete at USF.

“I know what I’m gonna get, I’m gonna get some really good offense I’m gonna get, this year, really good defense. I’m gonna get experience, intelligence. I’m gonna get all that stuff, you know, maybe even better than what our starters have been able to do but it requires a tremendous amount of I think self-confidence to not try to second guess why she’s on the bench or why she didn’t play or why she whatever just goes in and has, you know, phenomenal ability, like I said to be laser focused on doing the things she’s capable of doing and not worrying about what I’m thinking so much as a coach,” Goodenbour said.

Gayles was raised in a family where selfness and support for others was demonstrated on a daily basis. Her parents, grandparents and even her little brother set the example for her, and she feels her team follows along in that way. Gayles loves her team and it’s her willingness to do what’s best for her teammates that has allowed her to be a successful sixth woman.

“My parents, my grandparents, my little brother, everybody, they are just giving people and they demonstrated that as I was growing up. The importance of giving to others, not being about self-fulfillment, and I think that helps bring me a long way in basketball and in life,” said GayIes. “I think it’s easy when I’m surrounded by good people and I felt growing up in a family surrounded by good people who are setting that example; you need to follow that. I think that’s something that our team does as a whole. They’re all good and they all want to do what’s best for the team. I think that they’re all really selfless people. I think it’s been easy to follow that example and you want to hold that standard as somebody’s coming into the program.”

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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