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June 18, 2014

Basketball: Ex-WNBA champ Mazzante holds camp at Lourdes High

COAL TOWNSHIP — After spending the past seven years playing professionally, literally touring the globe, Kelly Mazzante was enjoying the chance to return to her roots.

The all-time leading basketball scorer at Penn State as well as the Big 10 Conference (men and women) was the guest speaker Tuesday for the second day of Lourdes Regional boys coach Pete Long’s 13th annual basketball camp.

Watching her swish basket after basket in front of an awe-struck group of campers, the former WNBA player didn’t show any signs of rust.

The camp, which runs through Friday at Lourdes High School, drew 90 youngsters from a wide area of central and eastern Pennsylvania.

Mazzante opened her part of the program with a question-and-answer session, then demonstrated several drills with the help of Long and several members or former members of the Lourdes girls team, including Nikki Komara (now at Susquehanna University), Rachel Shultz (an Elizabethtown College recruit), Chrissy Komara, Maya Khanna, Kendall Krebs and Bailey Trell.

Mazzante has started two boot camps at Loyalsock High School, one for adults and another for youth, and also does individual workouts with kids and speaks as often as she can.

Mazzante, who led her Montoursville High team to back-to-back PIAA Class AAA finals and won two WNBA championships with the Phoenix Mercury, said she enjoyed every minute of her career, but was ready to get back home.

She retired this past winter, but not because she could no longer play. Rather, she stepped away from the professional game at 32 because of the rigors of life on the road.

She bounced back from the only injury of her career — an ACL tear — to play another season in the WNBA and Europe.

“But playing internationally seven months out of 12, packing my bags, being away from home, it just started to weigh on me,” she said in an interview before the start of Tuesday’s appearance.

“Not too many people can retire from their profession when they want to, but it worked out for me and I have no regrets,” she said.

Mazzante was drafted out of Penn State by the Charlotte Sting, but that franchise folded after three seasons. She was taken in the dispersal draft by the Phoenix Mercury.

“I was lucky enough to play well against the Mercury when I played there (for the Sting) so they picked me in the dispersal draft and we won two championships in three years. That was a blessing in disguise.”

Mazzante said the transition from high school to college was a big jump, but nothing like going from college to the WNBA.

“You can’t really prepare for it. It’s a job. It’s a business. There might be six people contending for one position, so it was a learning experience.

“But I was fortunate enough to play almost seven seasons. I got into a good situation when I went to Phoenix. It was a business, but I enjoyed it,” she said.

Mazzante was eventually traded to the New York Liberty, but her ACL tear led the team to tear up her contract. She missed that season, then went to camp with the San Antonio Silver Stars and played several games with the Atlanta Dream.

In Europe, she played in Slovakia, Russia and Hungary.

But the travel, and being away from her family in Montoursville, made it an easy decision to walk away from the game she loved to play since she was 5.

“I’d come back and pack my summer stuff, then pack my winter stuff and away I’d go. So that was year-round. It was demanding. The older I got, the harder it was to be away from my family and constantly living out of bags, I was ready to come home and settle in the states,’’ she said.

“To play basketball professionally as a job, it was a lifetime experience. I enjoyed every second of it, but I’m glad to be home,” she said.

Mazzante is happy to being doing camps, occasional speaking and working individually with young players, but has thought about a future in college coaching.

“It’s something I think I will always wonder if I’ll enjoy it. I put my name out there, so we’re going to see what happens with it. For the time being I really like working with the kids on a one-on-one basis.”

Mazzante also said she might want to get into broadcasting and possibly the Big 10 Network some day. “But I am I no rush,” she said.

Meanwhile, she has no problem relating to the youngsters, such as the starry-eyed girls who hung on her every word, and action, on Tuesday.

“I love it,” she said.

Glancing at a young girl who stopped to give her a snack, she said, “Look at that face. How could you not like that face?”

She said the girls are thrilled to see someone from a small town that followed her dreams.

Her teaching includes a good dose of fundamentals, balanced with lots of fun.

“With the kids I have, I usually warm them up, we have a good time, get our work in, and we have to have fun,” she said. “When I get younger kids, I try to start with fundamentals. Even throughout my career, I did drills, even at age 30, just to keep myself sharp. I would do a lot of shooting everywhere I could. I was a gym rat.”

She added that young kids see the end results but they need to understand the work that goes into it, putting the time in, understanding the game.

She is already looking forward to working with her niece, who is just shy of 11 months.

“Yeah, the second she knows what a ball is, we’ll have her dribbling with it,” she said.

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