Standing at 6-foot-2, freshman Bree Salenbien towers over most of the other point guards on the Gonzaga University women’s basketball team.
With the average height for a Division 1 NCAA women’s basketball point guard being roughly 5-foot-8, Salenbien’s height is unique for her position. It’s also become a joke among teammates, including 5-foot-9 junior point guard Kayleigh Truong.
“It’s funny because we have a little point guard group and obviously my height isn’t 6 foot like Bree so she brings a lot of height to that group,” Truong said with a chuckle.
But while Salenbien is taller than the average point guard, her confidence didn’t always measure up to her stature.
Growing up in Adrian, Michigan, Salenbien was fairly skinny and awkward as a child. As Salenbien got into basketball, her father gave her advice to overcome these challenges.
“My dad always told me ‘even if you’re not strong, you play strong,’” Salenbien said.
For Salenbien, these words still hold meaning as she adjusts to the college level.
“I just want to be able to adapt well to the strength of the game and that’s one of the hardest things for me so far, so I just want to get better with that,” Salenbien said.
Learning to play strong, however, isn’t the only obstacle Salenbien has faced.
After helping Lenawee Christian School win back-to-back Division IV State Championships as a freshman and sophomore, Salenbien was looking to win her third consecutive title. But with 15 seconds left in the final regular-season game of her junior season, she tore her ACL.
Determined to get back on the court in time for her senior season, Salenbien’s recovery took only five months. As a senior, Salenbien was named the Gatorade Michigan Girls Basketball Player of the Year — averaging 26.9 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.6 steals a game.
With her success, came attention from colleges. Salenbien had 36 Division I scholarship offers by the beginning of her junior year, some of which came as early as 8th grade.
But even with so many schools to pick from, the COVID-19 pandemic added some complexities to the signing process.
The highest-ranked recruit in program history, Salenbien wasn’t able to visit GU’s campus before signing. But while she didn’t get to see the packed crowds in the Kennel or experience the area of Spokane, Salenbien was confident in her decision.
“I fell in love with the coaches when they talked to me,” Salenbien said. “Obviously I didn’t get to take my official [visit] so it was a lot about the relationships I [had] built already.
Since arriving at GU, Salenbien has impressed her teammates and coaches.
“She’s so versatile,” Truong said. “She can play inside, she can post [up] somebody who’s smaller than her. I mean, if I play defense on her, she’s going to go straight to the paint and post me up.”
In her first real test of the season, an exhibition game against Central Washington University Salenbien finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists in 16 minutes of play.
Since then, GU has played two official games — defeating Montana State University 72-47 and the University of Montana 67-60. In those contests, Salenbien totaled six points, six rebounds, four assists and a block across 22 minutes.
While it’s difficult to completely gauge Salenbien’s role as it’s early in the season, Head Women’s Basketball Coach Lisa Fortier provided some clarity.
[Bree’s] learning two positions, she’s learning to be the point guard and the wing for us and that's not something that we often have [players] do,” Fortier said.
At point guard, Salenbien is behind Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong, whom she credits with preparing her for the role.
“[I] have learned so much from them already,” Salenbien said. “Playing the point guard behind them, it’s just really special to have two people that know their role super well.”
As Salenbien adjusts to the college level, she isn’t alone.
Other newcomers include Esther Little, a 6-foot-2 wing from Ipswich, England, Calli Stokes, a 6-foot guard-forward from Redondo Beach, California, Maud Hujibens, a 6-foot-3 forward transfer from Syracuse, and Payton Muma, a 5-foot-8 guard from Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Off the court, the freshmen have bonded and supported each other, something Salenbien is grateful for.
“We stick together a lot off the court and then on the court we’re able to compete and really push each other to get better,” Salenbien said.
Fans can catch Salenbien’s next game when the Zags host Idaho State University on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. Tickets are available online or fans can follow along on the GU Athletics website.