The tallest player on the roster, and one of the youngest, true freshman Hanna Mack works to develop her role on an Eastern squad that is in the running for a Big Sky title
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
As a high school basketball player, Hanna Mack was always above the competition, literally. But now, the 6-foot-4 freshman of the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team is adjusting to the college game, where height alone does not make her the most dominant player on the court.
According to Mack, the college game is a lot faster, and everyone is a lot stronger. Recently, Mack had a rude awakening to just how physical collegiate players can actually be.
In a Big Sky Conference showdown with Northern Colorado, Mack was scrambling for a loose ball in the key, when she was knocked to the ground and then hit on the head, causing her to break her front tooth on the surface of Reese Court.
After several long dentist appointments, Mack’s mouth is looking normal again, although she has added a red mouth guard to her permanent game-day gear.
While still adjusting to the nuances of the college game, and college life, Mack is already showing improved toughness, and a great deal of promise at the center position for EWU. In fact, she is the only true freshman on the roster who has seen significant playing time, appearing in 14 of Eastern’s 22 games.
The rookie out of Eugene, Ore., is eager to contribute in any way she can, as Eastern continues to make a run at the 2013 Big Sky regular-season title.
The hunt continues this Saturday (Feb. 9) at home, when Mack and her teammates suit up in pink jerseys for the annual Breast Cancer Awareness game at Reese Court. On this most-important day, the Eagles take on Northern Arizona, looking to avenge a loss to the Lumberjacks from earlier in the season, and improve their positioning within the Big Sky Conference.
Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. and all fans who wear pink to the game will be granted $2 admission. Donations for the American Cancer Society will be accepted.
As a true freshman, how are you adjusting to playing college basketball?
“It was definitely a big adjustment at first. The game is a lot faster and everyone is stronger. I’m usually not the tallest on the court anymore; I can’t do whatever I want. I had a lot of catching up to do, but it was nice to come in the summer and play with all the girls at the gym. I also started lifting weights, which I’ve never done before in my career. I’m working really hard and I think I’m starting to catch up.”
For you, what is the biggest difference from high school basketball to playing Division I?
“It’s mostly the speed that is the biggest difference. You have to make good on-time passes or else you will get it stolen from you. I definitely had a lot of passes stolen at the beginning of the year.”
What has been your favorite part of playing basketball at Eastern at this point in your young career?
“I really like the team and how the coaches connected with us. It’s really family oriented, which I love and that’s actually what initially drew me here. I also like the style of play. It is similar to the system I played in before.”
How has your relationship with all your teammates grown throughout the season?
“When I first meet people, I’m usually really shy, so it was hard at first because I didn’t talk a lot. Now that I know everyone and feel comfortable, we’re a crazy team and love to have a lot of fun. I really connected well.”
You had your front tooth knocked out in a game recently. How exactly did that happen?
“I know someone passed me the ball and it got tipped, so I went out to catch it and someone hit me. I was already on the ground when someone hit my head into the floor, so I hit front teeth first.”
What did you have to get done to repair that “damage?”
“I made a few trips to the dentist. The day after it happened, I went to the dentist and he put my teeth back together because we had to go on a road trip. After I got back, I had to get a root canal on the tooth I broke and then he ground them down so I could get fake veneers on them.”
Have you had any other unusual injuries in your career?
“My junior year in high school I got a stress fracture in my foot, so I didn’t get to play most of the year. I haven’t really had too many unusual ones like that though, some sprained ankles, but nothing unusual.”
Do you find that opposing defenses are more physical with you because of your size? What do you do to counter that?
“Yes, they are sometimes because I’m not always the strongest person. I think lifting weights has helped me to push back and post up stronger. Also having long arms has really helped me. Even if they front me, I can put my arms up and our guards are really good at passing it to me.”
What do you feel is your role on the team as a true freshman?
“I think my main role is to bring energy - energy on the bench to keep everyone talking and energy to pump up everyone playing. Also, just doing what I know how to do when I come into the game.”
Are there specific parts of your game that you are working to improve so that you can continue expanding your role?
“I’ve been working on my hook shot, because I never really used a hook shot before, and deepening my range so that I can eventually shoot 3-pointers.”
In high school, you also played volleyball, and were again successful because of your height and athleticism. Was there any difficulty deciding which one you wanted to continue playing in college?
“I actually only started playing volleyball in high school. It was new, fun and fresh, I liked that about it. Volleyball was fun, but I didn’t have time to play club, so I always kind of knew I would play college basketball. I definitely think basketball was the right choice for me. I think I’m a lot better at basketball and know more about the sport.”
Who has been the biggest role model and influence in your life?
“Probably my Dad. He has always been there for me - coaching me and supporting me. He always knew I would make it to the collegiate level even when I didn’t think I would. He has always pushed me and driven me to all the club games and believed in me. He is definitely my biggest role model.”
What are some things you hope to accomplish in your Eastern career?
“I haven’t really thought about it much. I don’t think I put a lot of effort into my basketball career before college, but this year, I’ve put in a lot of hours after practice and shot with Lexie Nelson on our off days. I just want to be as good as I can be, but I don’t really know what that is yet. I’m still trying to find what my image is going to be here at Eastern. I just know I always want to be energized. I love blocking shots, so I hope to block a lot of shots and become more aggressive on offense.”