Yow's final recruit is her kind of player

Staff writerJanuary 24, 2010 

— Kay Yow's final recruit was willing to come all the way from Nebraska to play for her but never got the chance.

Marissa Kastanek, a freshman starter for N.C. State, was a high school senior when Yow died of cancer a year ago today.

Never once did Kastanek hear Yow express concern that her illness would keep her from coaching.

It wasn't just because it was Yow's nature to assume she would be around forever. The coach had recruited hundreds of players since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, and every one got the chance to benefit from Yow's wisdom at least a little bit.

Yow left so many behind - friends, family, colleagues, her current team and staff, former players and those who may not even have known her but were inspired by her fight.

And then there was Kastanek, a prototypical Yow player: hard-working, smart, responsible, a leader.

"She was so set that she wanted me to play for her," Kastanek said. "She had a will that was so strong.

"It made me feel I could play for someone like that."

She also was the only player in Yow's final recruiting class.

Kastanek acknowledges she had no idea who the coach was when Yow started recruiting her four years ago.

"I think that was the best way I could have done it," Kastanek said. "I didn't come to her because I wanted to play for her. She came to me. If I wouldn't have read anything about her, I would never have known she was a legend, that she was a big shot in women's basketball, because she didn't portray herself like that."

The day Yow died, Kastanek's high school team just happened to be playing in a "Pink Out" game to raise money for breast cancer.

Kastanek had kept her composure through warm-ups, but when a moment of silence was held in Yow's honor, she broke down. "I lost it," she said, then proceeded to score 22 points in what may have been the best game of her high school career.

If Yow was with her that night, she is with her all the time now.

"Just knowing that she pretty much built a lot of stuff around women's basketball and how knowledgeable people are about her makes me feel her presence all the time," Kastanek said.

Kastanek almost never got to State at all. Yow had sold her on the appeal of playing in the ACC, but Raleigh was a long way from home and the family Kastanek thought she would have there was gone. Yow's staff dispersed when Kellie Harper, who had been coaching at Western Carolina, was hired.

Harper called Kastanek the night she got the job in April and every day after that. She even went to Nebraska twice to visit her in person, knowing Kastanek was wavering.

That diligence won Kastanek over, although with one condition. She would come to N.C. State only if the hallway in Reynolds Coliseum decorated in tribute to Yow and her tenure remained in place.

We're not going to take it down, Harper told her. We're going to add to it.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8947

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