Kansas State junior Chantay Caron didn’t expect to be the only big on the women’s basketball team team this season.
But calling Caron a big is a bit of a stretch anyway. At 5-foot-11, the Lawrence native is by far one of the more undersized inside players in the Big 12.
A year ago, Caron played more on the outside. Sure, she would work into the paint when the game called for it. But for the most part, Caron was another shooter on the perimeter.
All that changed during the preseason, though, when Katya Leick tore her ACL during a preseason workout.
Leick, a 6-1 forward who transferred from Nebraska two seasons ago, sat out last year due to NCAA rules and was preparing to be a starter inside for the undersized Wildcats.
K-State, which travels to TCU for a 7 p.m. tip on Saturday, has another 6-1 player in Stacey Malone, but she’s a freshman and hasn’t found her way into the rotation yet.
That leaves Caron, who has stepped up to the challenge.
“Her growth is very, very important to this team, as well as her willingness to be physical,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said following K-State’s 59-58 win over TCU on Jan. 5. “She’s defended extremely well the last two games and I just see her as such an important attribute, because we’ve got to have that presence inside to play off of.
“She does a blue-collar job down there.”
Caron scored nine points and hauled down seven rebounds in that win over the Horned Frogs, while also scoring the game-winning shot with 2.7 seconds left in the game.
On the season, Caron is averaging 5.6 per game — up from the near three points a game a year ago. Six times this season Caron has scored at least eight points, while her rebounding has vastly improved with the new role.
A year ago, Caron totaled 61 boards. This season, she already has 65.
But it’s the little things Caron’s doing for the Wildcats that could prove to be the most important as the season goes on.
Caron reminds Patterson of a former Wildcat who also filled a similar role.
“She’s doing all those little intangible things,” Patterson said. “It reminds me a little bit of that workman-like attitude and game we used to get out of Danielle Zanotti, where ‘I’ll do this dirty work,’ and you have to be able to do it in a way that also helps produce on a team like we have this year.”
With that, Patterson has seen marked improvement in Caron’s game.
“Her play is growing and her understanding of how to take care of the basketball is growing, and that’s going to help us a great deal as we head down Big 12 play,” Patterson said. “She’s our truest post, right now, that’s getting quality minutes, and it’s exciting to see her stepping up in those ways.”
Caron said transitioning to being the team’s post presence hasn’t been easy, especially considering the tough matchups she sees in league play.
“It’s been a little difficult,” she said. “I’m not a big girl, so everybody we play will most likely be bigger than me. I get frustrated when something doesn’t go right, but I’m learning that it’s OK if it doesn’t go right because I’m helping my teammates out.”
Caron said the answer to the size mismatch is to just play tougher and faster.
“I just use my body and try to push people out,” she said. “There is also my quickness, because I might be quicker than them because they are bigger than me. That can help me.
“As long as we are winning and as long as my team is doing what we have to do to get the job done, then I’m all positive.”