by Andrew Garda
Former Montclair High School basketball star and current Kansas State freshman Alisa Wiggins can add another bullet point to her resume after this summer: world traveler.
Wiggins has just returned from a trip with the Kansas State Wildcats women’s basketball team, traveling across Europe for a tournament where they played teams from countries like Italy, Germany and Slovakia. The school travels like this once every four years in order to sharpen players’ skills before heading into the preseason and regular season of Big 12 action.
For Wiggins, the time between her commitment to the Wildcats and getting on a plane to go to Europe went very quickly.
“When I visited at the beginning of July — I think it was the 9th,” Wiggins said on a phone call last week,”after the last day of my visit I really just turned around and went right back, because that’s when we really started to get into it, getting ready for this tour. So it was very quick.”
Wiggins was eager to get working with her new team and to get to know her fellow players.
The European trip isn’t just a time to get on the court and get better, it’s also a good time for players to bond with each other and for newcomers like Wiggins to get comfortable with her new teammates on and off the court.
“It’s been great,” she said. “Everybody just likes to be around everybody, so it’s really good and working on our chemistry on and off the court has been great.”
Team dinners and trips to museums and amusement parks fill the off-court hours. Wiggins says she isn’t a roller coaster person and prefers carousels and mellower rides, but didn’t miss out on team bonding: “I had other teammates who are carousel too so it was good.”
There was plenty of basketball as well, as head coach Jeff Mittie and his staff worked on making sure they found the right fit for each player.
As a freshman, Wiggins knows her role could be minimal, but she’s not worried.
“I’m just keeping an open mind,” she said. “And yeah, it’s different than high school. Everybody was probably the best on their team and had all these stats. But right now we’re on one team and we all want to get on the same page so we can all work together. It’s just a learning process and everyone will get their turn. You don’t just start at the top.”
Growth is a big part of college and something Kansas State expects from its players. That’s part of what drew Wiggins to the Wildcats program.
“Knowing the coaching staff, everybody really looks out for your best interests and they want you to grow as a player. It’s not just who you were when you came here or who you think you are. You’re going to grow.”
The Wildcats help their players to grow by providing them opportunities on the court and experiences away from it.
“I’ve never traveled this far before, especially in Europe,” Wiggins said. “It’s definitely different. The people are different, the food is different, but it’s a very great experience seeing what I’ve seen on this trip.”
Wiggins spoke about, among other things, seeing monuments and statues in Rome, and enjoying the view from a mountaintop in Switzerland.
“It’s been great, being exposed to many things I don’t think I would have been exposed to if I hadn’t been on this team. I’m just truly thankful for this opportunity.”
Wiggins and the team landed in Minneapolis last Sunday. She traveled back to the East Coast and has this week to prepare before heading to the Manhattan, Kansas, campus on Aug. 20.
There’s a lot to get done, but Wiggins says she’s lucky to have a family which has already begun getting together the things she will need for college.
Wiggins is majoring in kinesiology but also plans to take some communications classes as well as nutrition and health classes.
She is grateful for the coaches she had at Montclair High School, such as former head coaches Bianca Brown and Paul Palek, and the staff at the Montclair PAL league.
Without those influences, Wiggins says, she wouldn’t be where she is today. She says she hopes current students take advantage of what the Montclair basketball community has to offer.
For now, Wiggins turns her attention to joining a historically rich collegiate basketball program and getting a chance to add to its legacy.
“It means a lot to me [to be there]. I’m truly blessed because I didn’t think I’d be in this situation at all or this far away from home. But I’m just fortunate to be a part of something bigger and hopefully leave my mark as a player and as a person at K-State.”