A Coach’s First Season: Interview with Freshman Marissa Kastanek
The Wolfpack women’s basketball team returns to Reynolds Coliseum Friday night at 6:30 to face Wake Forest and try to snap a two-game losing streak. NC State (11-7, 1-2) fell 83-66 to Boston College and 74-71 to No. 16 Florida State in its past two games after opening ACC play with a 73-45 win over Maryland. As part of our ongoing series “A Coach’s First Season,” we sat down with freshman guard Marissa Kastanek to talk about the past couple of weeks, moving forward and her background. She was named the ACC Rookie of the Week last week after scoring a game-high 18 points in the loss to Florida State. She averages 10.8 points a game and has scored in double figures in 10 games so far this season.
On dealing with the past two losses
The biggest thing right now is what Coach Kellie says and that’s “You have to keep getting better.” Another thing she said that really motivated me is that “Sometime this season you are going to make a statement and coming close to Florida State, losing by 3 points, isn’t a statement. Pretty soon, we’re going to have it where we all are going to click and we’re all going to be on the same page.” When we do that, we’ll see what we can truly be. . . .As far as team concepts gp, everybody has gotten the concepts down. But it’s like Coach Kellie says, “Nobody can have a bad game. We don’t have to all 14 players having a great game, but nobody can have a bad game.” That to me is everything, because if I come out and have a bunch of turnovers and miss a bunch of shots, I’m not doing my part for the team and helping the team be successful. So the team aspect, we know what we have to do. So right now our focus is more on the individual and what we have to do to make everyone on the court better. . . . Once we get on the same page, individually and as a team, we’re going to be good. We have the talent; we just need to get all the pieces of the puzzle together.
On what the team has been working on
We really need to work on the little things, like boxing out and turnovers and making every possession count. The Boston College game didn’t come down to one possession like the Florida State game, but when we watched film of the Boston College game, it was the little things on each possession that made us unsuccessful. [To focus in on the value of each possession,] we do a type of drill where we have one-possession and the shot clock and we get the ball at half-court and the coaches give us a play and we have to run it. It’s both a defensive and offensive thing. If defense stops you, the offense has to run because you didn’t value the possession and score. If the offense scores, then the defense runs because you didn’t execute the defense right. . . . Everyone learns the value of each possession.
On dealing with the losses
None of us like to lose. At the same time, the coaches don’t give us a break, which is a good thing. Some coaches might say, “Oh, you lost to Florida State, the No. 16 ranked team in the nation. You lost to them by three and led the whole game. It was a really good game and you made a statement.” But we didn’t make a statement because we didn’t win. That carries over for me into practice. We haven’t made a statement. We need to beat somebody that counts, and we need to come out and play our hardest every game to see how good we could be.
On facing two of the Big Four schools — Wake Forest and UNC — in four days
I’m really focused on Wake Forest. Just going to the [Wolfpack men’s basketball game] against Duke [Wednesday] was a good experience, and I talked to [men’s basketball player Scott Wood] today, and I asked him how it felt. He said a win is a win. It doesn’t matter who plays. I could tell he was excited about it, but I’m going to try to take the same approach. I can’t get overexcited and underexcited; I just have to play my game.
On the biggest challenge
My consistency and strength. The biggest thing I see when I watch film is that I’m hitting a lot of screens, and I think the reason for that is in that in high school I could get through every screen. Nobody could set a good screen on me because I could get through them. And here, I’ve got big post players, and I haven’t adjusted yet. I’ve been working on it in practice, and even as I’m walking through campus, I practice turning my shoulders like I’m getting around a screen. I’ll try to nonchalantly walk through campus and pull my shoulders back and get used to the motions. In the Vanderbilt game and the Boston College game, I take those two losses real hard on myself. I started off the Vanderbilt game with my girl scoring on three 3-pointers because I got hit with three screens. In the Boston College game, the same thing and my girl hit the first 12 points. I take those losses real hard on myself because you take those 12 points away at the beginning of the game and it’s a different game. As a freshman, that’s one thing, I’m really trying to work on.
On her growth as a player
My confidence has gained quite a bit. At the beginning of the season, I was turning the ball over quite a bit. As the season has progressed, I have become a lot more smarter and more patient and seeing the game and letting it come to me instead of doing too much.
On building confidence
My mom is a big part of it. I talk to her every day. It was to a point where I was kind of confused on what my role was. I’d have a game where I’d have 20 points and then a game with 5 points. I was like, “What am I doing wrong?” All these thoughts were going through my head. My mom said, “If you weren’t good, you wouldn’t be there. If you didn’t have the abilities to perform you wouldn’t be there.” And she just encouraged me. And with God anything si possible.” She just kept me reminding of that. I took that into consideration and realized that I am going to have some bad games. But I need to limit the bad games.
On her role on the team
Coming every day to practice and working my butt off. I say that because I have a feeling that me being a freshman and working really hard will bring everybody else up because nobody wants to be beat by a freshman. . . . As far as the games, letting the game come to me and if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it, and if I’m not open, I’m going to get it to somebody and keep moving. That will help get my teammates open, too.
On getting introduced to basketball
My mom got me into every sport. I played soccer, T-ball, basketball. I was one of those kids that grew up playing with the boys all the time. Two of my best friends were boys, and I played on their 3-on-3 basketball team. We had a soccer team, and I was the only girl on there. So I just grew up around sports and playing competitively with boys. Soccer was my main sport until about seventh or eighth grade and then I switched over to basketball because my soccer team broke down a little bit . . . . I loved it. You couldn’t tell me not to play. . . It’s a sport where you can never really be perfect. Until you play a perfect game, where you don’t miss a shot and no turnovers, until you have that perfect game, there is always something to work on.
On choosing NC State
I played on a club team called the Cornhusker Shooting Stars, and we played in a tournament every April out here. My older sister was playing on the team, and I came out and watched. One of the games was at NC State. It was just another college, and I didn’t know anything about it. The next year I came out as a freshman and the next summer the NC State coaching staff was watching another player and saw me. I got a letter from them and then they started calling my club coach for me to call them. And they offered me. I needed a summer to weigh my options, and I kept in contact, and I just fell in love with it. I loved the team atmosphere and the tradition and the [coliseum] and I liked the fact that we’re not the Duke or the North Carolina. We’re a bit of the underdog . . . I like to be on the team that goes out and you play your hardest and has nothing to lose.
On sticking with her commitment to NC State when Harper was named coach
It starts with me knowing that I was coming to NC State since my junior year. When I committed, I was set to come here. All the colleges were out of my mind except NC State. When it snowed in Nebraska, I would say, “Just one more year and I’m done with snow.” Then when I found out about the coaching change, I thought, Now I don’t know if I’ll feel comfortable being so far away. The thing that really hit me hard was when [Coach Harper] said that she knew that I was going to be safe and comfortable and I was going to get along with all of them. That really meant something to me and when she came out [to Nebraska] twice . . . . She told me that if I came out here that she was going to take care of me. I really didn’t know her. When I was growing up, I lived on a farm and I got only four basic channels on TV, and my parents really didn’t want us watching TV. So I didn’t know who Kay Yow was and I didn’t know who Kellie Jolly Harper was. I had a club coach who was in love with Tennessee, and he filled me on her when it was announced that she got the job. It was one of those things I couldn’t tell you a single thing about [Coach Harper] until I met her. But just the way that she was committed to me, I felt like I could believe that. I think it was God’s plan that He wanted me to come here all along. I’m having a great time here, and I’m thankful for the whole process I went through because I met a whole lot of great people with the previous coaching staff and now with this team.
We also talked to Marissa earlier in the season during her first road trip of her collegiate career. Read that Q&A here. Scroll to the bottom.