Marissa Kastanek left behind one of the most successful women’s basketball careers at NC State in 2013, when she graduated with a psychology degree. The native of Wilber, Neb., holds the Wolfpack record for most games played (133), ranks eighth in scoring (1,655 points) and sunk the second-most three pointers in program history. She was named the 2010 ACC Freshman of the Year and was a first-team Academic All-American her senior year.
Given such a decorated career, Kastanek was not ready to give up on basketball after graduation. So she’s been playing basketball internationally, first in Sweden and this season in the Czech Republic. We caught up with Kastanek via email for an interview about her basketball life overseas, which will conclude its run for this season in April 2015.
What did you know about the Czech Republic before you started playing there? My ancestors are Czech, so I knew quite a bit about the country before I came here. I actually picked the Czech Republic because of my family history. My great-great-grandpartents came to America from the Czech Republic and settled in Wilber, Neb., with many other Czech immigrants. Wilber is the Czech capital of the USA, and I grew up 10 minutes from there on our family farm. My last name is Czech. I fit in here. This is the first place I have played where they say my name right every time.
Tell us a little about your team, BK Strakonice. My team is awesome. I have felt so happy here in Strakonice. My team consists of eight professional players: myself and one other American, a Canadian, a Serbian, and the rest are Czech. We also have three young Czech girls that play with us to gain experience. …The league has 12 teams. We play 10 of the teams twice, once at home and one away.
What are the biggest differences between the American game and the European game? There are two HUGE differences between the NCAA game and the FIBA game. 1) The game is more physical. 2) Traveling is called in FIBA when it wouldn’t be in NCAA. Most Americans have a hard time with this when they start playing internationally.
You are one of the best floor leaders in Wolfpack women’s basketball history. How do you communicate with players and coaches who may not speak the same language as you? Most of the girls here speak English. I also make it a point to learn important words in the language they speak. I have learned how to say “defense,” “turnover,” “mine,” “ball,” “good job,” and “screen” in Czech. There are times when communication is lost due to language, but that is why we practice and we have come to understand each other in our own ways. Coach knows how to say my name to get my attention, and then I look at his face to see if he is happy or mad. I know I did a good job if he is smiling, and I know I messed up if he looks angry.
What aspects about living or playing in the U.S. do you miss the most? I miss the team bond that I had in the USA. I miss being able to wear the same outfit on road trips. Over here we just wear whatever and sometimes don’t even look like we are together. I miss eating team dinners together. Over here every one is on their own for eating before games. I miss talking to fans and kids after the games. Here the fans and kids are here, but due to the different languages, it is hard to communicate and have simple but needed conversations. All we can do is smile at each other and give high-fives.
What are your plans after your current season ends? I plan on working hard to get into the WNBA. That is still a dream that I want to come true. If not, I am taking a trip to Peru with the NC State’s Young Alumni. It is a 10-day trip that will be solely a vacation for me.