Living the dream before turning 25 from being a water girl is an awesome journey that Sam Guastella is enjoying. She had successful season with her Luxemburg team, Etzella. Her competitive plays brought her to play for an Australian team. Sam shares the journey she had while she plays basketball and her goal of being in 25 countries before she turns 25. But because she has been playing basketball for most of her young life, her Achilles and knees are in bad shape. Learn how she planning to move forward from this.
Sam Guastella is a former D1 basketball star out of Quinnipiac University and current professional basketball player in Luxembourg. Her career has brought her all around the world and has led her to some amazing life experiences. She has been living out her dream of becoming a professional basketball player and is having the time of her life doing it.
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Living The Dream with Sam Guastella
Please welcome Sam Guastella. Sam, it’s an honor to have you on the podcast.
Thanks, excited to be here.
Where are you from?
I’m from Red Bank, New Jersey. I was born and raised there.
Did you play basketball your entire life?
I grew up playing lacrosse more. My dad went to Montclair State and he’s a lacrosse player. My brother played lacrosse here. He is a legend.
When did you make the transition over to basketball?
I grew up playing lacrosse and soccer. I was a goalie my whole life.
Basketball wasn’t even in the picture.
I played a little rec. I liked it. I had fun. I was on a co-ed team with my brother growing up, the River Plaza League. I had a growth spurt in sixth, seventh grade and was like, “This could be pretty good for me.” I went to St. James in Red Bank and played youth ball there. I knew I wanted to go to Red Bank Catholic. Going into high school, I remember sitting down with my dad being like, “Do you think I can make the freshman team for basketball? Is that possible?” He was like, “If you work hard. They’re good though. Work hard. I’m sure you can make freshman.” I wound up making JV.
You skipped freshman ball?
I skipped freshman and went to JV. I was a swinger for JV in varsity my freshman year. I didn’t play much. I was an awesome water girl my freshman year.
You got to start out somewhere. They have one of the best programs in the state.
When I was there as a freshman, the senior class was Kristina Danella, Kristina Coppolino, Kim Talbot, Kat Fox, Caroline Gabriel. They were girls that could all play. I was honored to be associated with them and I have looked up to them growing up. Wearing the same jersey as them was fun.
When did you realize that you’re getting pretty good at this thing and you might be able to go somewhere?
I remember my freshman year, I was going into spring season for Lacrosse and Joe Montana was like, “What A-team are you playing for?” I was like, “ I don’t know.” I was playing for the New Jersey Sting, which was like their B-Team because they would not let me practice at all and play tournaments because of lacrosse. I wound up switching to the coach’s choice team at New Brunswick. It was basically another team that lets me focus on lacrosse but do some basketball too.
Did you play lacrosse all four years too?
No, I only played two years of lacrosse. Going into my sophomore year, I was sixth man on varsity and getting a lot of minutes. I remembered Joe Montana sat me down for meeting. It was like, “College basketball, what are you thinking?” I was like, “Fun to watch, but madness is cool. What are you getting at?”He was like, “Where would you want to play?” I was like, “Me? Got it.” I figured out in my sophomore year that he had been hearing from some coaches and that he had seen a lot in me. He pushed me incredibly hard. I had a fun relationship for a couple years. We’re good buddies. He’s intense. My name for two full seasons was “Goddamn you, Sam Guastella.” That only made me better. My sophomore year was when I started getting recruited for basketball.
Did you won any state championships at RBC?
We won a division once. My group was really strong in the conference. We wound up finishing with almost twenty D1 girls in the conference. We would play starting five. Vianney would have all five D1 girls, and we’d play Rumson who had five there too. It was super competitive, which was what got me ready for college sports because of how great our conference was.
How did you end up picking Quinnipiac?
My dad was amazing in the process because he knew how stressed I was and how academics were important for me, too. I never was just a basketball player or an athlete. I explored everything and school was important to me. He was realistic to the point that he was like, “Let’s narrow this down to city, rural, suburb.” I remember my brother Pete was in McDaniel at the time, so he was in Maryland. My dad was like, “That’s rural. Why don’t we check out Mount Saint Mary’s? They’ve been calling a lot.”I went there, and I like, “Cows, cows, field, field. No, not for me.” Cool program, just wasn’t for me. I checked out Monmouth which was in the suburbs near the beach and I was like, “This is fun. This is close to home, but it’s a little too close to home.” I went to Fordham, saw the city and was like, “The Bronx is not for me.” I went up to Quinnipiac and the stars aligned and everything worked perfectly.
It was the rainiest day I’ve ever experienced of torrential downpour, the worst right up there. It was the fall, so it was October, which is beautiful there because of the foliage. I got up there and the coaching staff was incredible. The arena was brand new. That health science program was insane and I’m into science and that was my passion. I was like, “I want to be somewhere that has a great science program.” The coaching staff and I clicked, so Quinnipiac was almost easy. I got in the car and my dad was like, “What are you thinking?” I was like, “I’ll go here.”
How did the next four years play out there? Was it everything you thought it was going to be?
It was so much more. I came into a program that had a great coaching staff and was up and coming, had only been D1 since 2000. I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I could play. We had a decent first year, picked off some big teams. My sophomore and my senior year we went undefeated, won two championships in the conference, went to the NCAA tournament twice.
That must have been an insane experience going to the NCAA tournament.
My first time doing it was our school’s first time doing it, men or women. That was insane. We went down to Maryland, played Maryland at Maryland. Had a tight first half with them and we were competing. That was insanely fun.
What was it like playing a huge school like Maryland? What’s the thought process going in there?
It’s tough. My sophomore year, we played a couple of big name schools and wound up picking a few off. My freshman year, we beat Minnesota and St Mary’s College out in California in the tournament. Sophomore year, we beat St John’s, which was huge for us. We were getting to that bigger name school. We were close to it. Preparing for Maryland, we had practice players come in. We had an ex-NBA player come in who was a coach on the men staff who is enormous. It was a close game at the first half. I’m almost 6’2” and I was guarding a girl who was close to 6’5”and probably 235. She’s a big girl. I was battling in the low post with her and she’s like, “poof” and I’m down on the ground.
Who was that one girl at Baylor that was 6’8”?
Brittney Griner. We didn’t have to play her. We were fighting girls that weren’t that big and can go shoot the three. We’re like, “This is going to be a long day.”
What was your thought process as school was winding down? Were you thinking about getting a regular job or were you like, “I’m going to play some ball?”
It feels similar to how I was in high school about college basketball, about playing pro. I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t think that I was good enough to play. I didn’t know how many leagues there were. I remember I had a strong senior year. I shot the ball really well and I got invited down to the Final Four at Tampa and they have a pro-combine where they bring in European agents, WNBA agents, and the mix of everything. I got invited, showed up, and the girls were so good. Tina Thompson and Baylor, Louisville. These girls were big names and they’re like, “Where are you from?” “Quinnipiac.” It was a cool experience. I wound up getting decent exposure there. Through a friend, I got picked up by an agent who was German. She was like, “You could play overseas with your height and the way you move.”I was thinking about going on an interview for a medical device sales job, but this is cool. That will still be there; that field exists. I remember at senior week for graduation I was partying and having a blast. I’m like checking my email and getting some looks in France and Germany and I was like, “What’s going on? I guess this is a real thing.”
Was your first stop Luxembourg or you played somewhere else before that?
My first stop was Luxembourg. My first team here was called Etzella. It was in Ettelbruck which was the north of Luxembourg. Luxembourg sits right between Germany, France, Belgium. It’s a tiny little country.
How tiny is it? How far does it take to go across country?
It’s the size of Rhode Island.
What was your first experience getting off the plane? Was that your first time in Europe?
I had been to Italy and traveled around there. I did a European tour with some friends after graduation, so I was familiar with Europe. It was my first time traveling alone though and it was tough. I’m a family girl. I’m close with my parents and my brothers so those goodbyes were not easy. Once I got off the plane, the country was beautiful, the people were nice. It’s definitely different than home. It was interesting.
What language do they speak there?
They speak Luxembourgish. They grow up learning four languages. They speak Luxembourgish in their homes. They’re in school learning French, German, and English. Anywhere between our age and our parents’ age can speak English because they learn that in high school and get good at it in college. Here’s my thought about this, though. If we had to know a different language to go from here to Boston, we would probably learn it. I get upset about us and I’m like, “I don’t speak a second language. I’m a dumb American.”
I used to think I was fluent in Spanish until I went to Costa Rica and realized I absolutely know nothing.
They’re super intelligent. They speak a lot of languages.
But you can get by with English there?
You can get by with English. I make an effort to know some little phrases so that they know I’m trying. They appreciate the effort. Being able to be at a restaurant and speak a little bit with the wait staff, they definitely appreciate it. It makes my life a little bit easier.
Are you fluent?
No, it’s so difficult. It’s such a difficult language. I could read menus well in French. When it comes to food, I got to be able to know what I’m eating, so that’s fun.
What was your first year like?
My first year was incredible.
Was Sarah there at that point?
Sarah was finishing up at Monmouth. I was with a different team that I’m planning on now. I was with the team called Etzella. We wound up winning the Cup Championship as a rookie, which was insanely fun. My brother was out for it. It was his first time in Europe and he was there for the championship game.
Are you the only American girl on the team?
My first year, there was two of us. My first roommate was from Montana and went to University of Montana. She was a veteran, had played a couple of years overseas, so her and I are close. It was funny getting off the plane and meeting her and she starts a conversation like, “You ever been to a cattle branding?”We might as well be from two different countries that spoke English. She was incredible and she wound up getting a coaching job and deciding to leave. I went through three roommates and three different Americans in that season. All three of which are incredible people who I’m lucky to have met. They’re all in different places in their life all over the world, which I’m glad I get to reconnect with them. We won the championship. I had an absolute blast my first year.
When did Sarah join you?
Sarah joined me this past year. I went home after my first year at Etzella. I was so sold on coming back to Luxembourg. I had an awesome time. There were some financial issues with my club that we’re not able to pay to have another two pros again, so I was bummed about that. I signed a contract to go to Australia for my second year. The funny thing about the Australian season is it’s during their winter time, which is our summertime. I would have had the whole fall and winter to do nothing. I wind up switching agents and some issues happened so that was my last second, it was Labor Day weekend and I got a call from my new agent who was like, “How’d you like Luxembourg?” I said, “I loved it.”She was like, “Do you want to play for a different team? It would be a team that you played against last year.” I was like, “Yes, but I leave for Australia in March.”“They’re cool with it. They’ll let you stay until you have to leave.” I was like, “Let’s do it.” I jumped on a plane the next day. I packed all my stuff and I was going to Luxembourg.
Did you play in Australia?
I did. I got to play a few months in Luxembourg again last year, which is the team I’m playing with now. They’re called Dudelange T71. From T71, I got on a plane at the end of January. In February, I was in Australia and played three months there.
You packed up all your stuff in ten minutes and just went on a plane?
My agent called and was like, “Do you want to play in Luxembourg? You leave tomorrow. Your flight leaves at six.” I was like, “Rock on. I got to pack, talk to you later.” My parents were like, “You’re psychotic.” I’m like, “I’ve got to go. I’m living the dream.”
How was Australia?
Australia was absolutely incredible. I was right in Melbourne and absolutely loved the people. We all picture Australia like the beach and warm and it’s summer all year round. Melbourne has four seasons and all four seasons can be in one day, which is insane. You can wake up and it’s 75 and sunny and then by lunchtime, it’s raining and 50 degrees and you’re like, “What was just happened?” I was there at the end of their summertime, which is like our dead of winter. The weather was incredible. People were really nice. I wound up having a minor foot injury that needed a lot of rest. They thought I might have needed surgery. It just needed rest and it wound up not being the best situation for me to stay, so I wound up leaving in April. I flew back to Luxembourg and signed a contract for the next year. I was back in Luxembourg in May or April and I was like, “Let me go travel.” I checked off a couple more countries off my list.
Where did you go? What has your favorite place been?
I have seen 23 countries. My goal is to see 25 before I turn 25. That’s my bucket list. When I traveled last spring, I went to Budapest, Prague, bounced around France a little bit. I do that at the end of the season. It depends on what climate you’re talking about but Copenhagen, Denmark is probably my favorite city of all time. It has this indescribable, intangible thing about it. It’s so beautiful and the people are nice. I’ve been there three or four times now.
Have you been to Oktoberfest over in Germany?
I’ve done it in Luxembourg. We’re on the German border, so there’s a ton of Oktoberfest parties. I’ve never gone to Munich and done it there. I’ve worn the dirndl dress and gone with people with lederhosen and the whole thing. I loved to Copenhagen. I have to say beach-wise, Santorini, Greece is one of my favorite beaches I’ve seen.
Have you been to Croatia?
I haven’t been to Croatia, but that’s on my list. I’d love to check that out. I did Prague for New Year’s, which was the most magical city I’ve seen because it’s like fireworks. Nothing was destroyed in the war so all the architects was ancient and incredible.
I have to look at a map because you’ve named like three or four places where I don’t know where they are.
I’m learning as I go. When I learn more, I’m like, “I really don’t know geography” because America doesn’t learn it. We don’t make it important.
Have you been to the Luxembourg castle?
A few times. My favorite place in Luxembourg that’s near and dear to me is there’s a castle called Vianden. It’s in the north of Luxembourg. I get a lot of crap because everyone who visits me, I’m like, “You’ve got to go check this castle. America doesn’t understand what architecture is until you see the castle.”Everyone here is like, “Why the castle?” I’m like, “We don’t have castles. The closest thing we have is Disney World and that doesn’t count.” I’ve been almost fifteen times. It’s only about 45 minutes from my place. It’s beautiful and I love it. I could sit there for hours and hang out and look at the view.
When’s the season over for you this year?
It’s later this year. We’re in second place now and we’re doing great. We’ll make the top four hopefully if we win a few more games. Final four starts in the beginning of May. It’s best of three game series. If we go to a third game in the championship, we can go until May 26. It’s late as that. After that, I’ll travel a bunch and head home for a Jersey summer.
Are you going to keep this ball rolling for as long as you can?
Sadly, my body has been going through a lot. I don’t think I’m made to play too much longer.
Is it your foot?
My Achilles are bad. My knees are not great. It’s all the basketball normal things. I’ve felt a lot of signs that this is probably going to be my last year. I’m going to retire and head back to Jersey, but it’s been awesome.
What do you want to do? Do you want to do something with science again?
I’m thinking medical device sales would be cool for me. I’m a total people person. Love anything sales related. It would be cool. I love surgery so if I could be in on surgeries with doctors would be cool.
You should be a surgeon.
I know, but that’s a lot of work. I think about it. I’m leaning towards that. I did a lot of lab work in college, so I do like the lab stuff. I find myself talking to myself because there’s no one to talk to you while you’re in the lab. Sales would be good avenue for me to go.
You have a couple more months. You’re going to travel around a little more?
That’s exactly it.
You’ll be back home June?
Early June. I’ll be back.
Sam, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Best of luck for the rest of the season.
Thanks so much.