RALEIGH — Markeisha Gatling might just be the ingredient N.C. State womens basketball has been missing.
At least Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper, who instantly made a recruiting trip to see the former Athens Drive High center right after getting the job in 2009, is hoping so.
The solidly-built 6-foot-5 junior transfer from Gulf Coast Community College is set to start in the middle when the Wolfpack opens Nov. 9 at noon against Wofford in the Wolfpack Invitational. And she will join a veteran lineup Harper hopes can get the Wolfpack its first NCAA tournament berth in three years.
The ACC game is physical, and I feel like our players for the first time have really embraced that, Harper said Wednesday during media day at Reynolds Coliseum. They understand how physical they have to play, and from some of the comments they make they understand this now.
Markeisha gives us size and a presence in the paint that we just have not had. Weve had post players in the past that could put the ball in the hole and score and that were very talented. But we have not had anybody of that size who could take up that much space on both ends of the floor. She will definitely be a difference-maker for us. When I got hired, I was at her school at 8:30 the next morning. We thought she was an ACC caliber player who could make a big difference.
Harper had tried to recruit Gatling to play at Western Carolina before taking the N.C. State job, but Gatling decided to sign with Charlotte before eventually matriculating at the junior college.
Gatling scored 1,273 points during her career at Athens Drive including a state field-goal percentage record of 74.1 percent. She was ranked the 88th best player in the country and the 20th best post player by different publications.
She was ranked the No. 7 player out of junior college last spring by the All-Star Girls Report, after she averaged 11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for a team that finished 24-5.
When I went down there I had already figured I wanted to come back home, and N.C. State was my first choice, said Gatling, who added that she bench presses almost 200. I learned a lot in junior college. I matured a lot and learned a lot about basketball. I hustle better and rebound harder, and my play is more urgent. I think junior college got me ready to play in the ACC.
Coach Harper is very outgoing and brings a lot of energy. We want to go out there and do it just for her.
Gatling said the strongest part of her game is work in the post.
Scoring, she said. Thats what I do. Score. And I love everything about my team. Everybody gets along well and we laugh a lot. We just love each other, and our team dynamics are really good.
I just want to do my best and help this team out as much as I can.
Guard Marissa Kastanek, the Wolfpacks only senior, said she expects Gatling to be a handful, particularly for opposing defenders.
Keisha adds so much to our team as far as having a presence in the middle, Kastanek said. Weve had great post players in the past, but not great post players with size. And she brings that presence where people just have to guard her. If they dont, its an easy bucket and if they do, it opens up the outside.