BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Tasha Dickey needed Kansas State and the Wildcats needed her for the same reason.
Dickey, who transferred to K-State this past offseason from the University of Arizona, had never played in the NCAA tournament. The 5-foot-11 guard spent four years at Arizona — one as a redshirt — and had never even advanced past the first round of the Pac-10 tournament.
But when Dickey graduated last year, she had a decision to make. She wasn’t sure if she even wanted to continue playing basketball. Her time at Arizona wasn’t entirely enjoyable and she was burned-out on the game, prepared to walk away.
All Dickey knew was that she wanted a change. She didn’t know what that would be or how that change was going to happen. Yet Dickey also knew if she walked away from the game, there could be regrets — unfinished business, so to speak.
Enter the Wildcats, who were coming off an NCAA-tournament berth and had lost one of their better scorers in Taelor Karr, who transferred to Gonzaga.
The Wildcats needed to find another scorer to go along with Brittany Chambers and Jalana Childs this season if they were to make it back to the Big Dance.
K-State quickly became a possibility for Dickey. After all, her family was already in Manhattan because her father Charlie coaches the offensive line for the Wildcat football team.
“I know she was hesitant to play basketball anymore because she didn’t have a good experience at Arizona — maybe a little beaten down,” Chambers said. “But I think with a little kick from her dad and family to come play a fifth year here, ever since her first day here, it’s been different for her. She’s found the love for the game again and we’ve benefited huge from having her.”
It was the change Dickey was looking for, an opportunity to get closer to her family and finish her basketball career the way she wanted to — with a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
Considering where she was a year ago — ready to quit the game — nobody was more excited than Dickey to hear K-State’s name called on Monday night when the Wildcats learned they’d be headed to Bridgeport as a No. 8 seed to play 9-seeded Princeton in the first round of the NCAA Championship.
“It’s kind of like that Cinderella story,” said Dickey, who has started all 32 games for the Wildcats this season. “Amazing things happened and it all worked out for me to even be here. It’s just amazing to be part of this program. They opened their program to me and for me to be able to finish it out and be able to go to the NCAA tournament is truly a blessing and a dream come true.”
Dickey was exactly what K-State needed too, if it was to make it back to the NCAA tournament.
“I think the addition of Tasha Dickey was huge,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “That was an unexpected X-factor. Even four or five weeks into the season with Tasha, I would not have said that. (The team) had to mature. They had to toughen up, and come together.”
And once they did that, Dickey settled in and became that third scorer and another leader for the Wildcats, averaging 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds a game this season to help K-State to a 19-13 overall record.
“I think it was amazing that Tasha Dickey was an incredibly strong candidate for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year,” Patterson said. “I think her story is just very inspiring because it speaks to the challenge we all have to be prepared when an opportunity or challenges present themselves to test yourself in new ways.”
Dickey’s transition to Manhattan wasn’t an easy process at first. She was inserted into a lineup that played together for the better part of two seasons. And Dickey wasn’t a freshman that could be easily molded to fit the style of basketball K-State wants to play.
No, Dickey had already learned the game one way, but that was about to change.
That fresh start Dickey was looking for a year ago was about to take on a whole new meaning once she arrived at K-State.
“It’s a story of persistence and a story of a young person who was open to change, in spite of having experienced an entire college career having done and thought and learned things one way,” Patterson said. “It’s not often you go through four years of college and are thrown into a brand new experience and someone says, ‘now, everything you did, thought, how you did it and when you did it, has to change.’”
It was a learning process for everyone, not just Dickey, who had averaged 3.7 points per game while at Arizona.
“It was difficult because we had our core five and had played together for a while, but one left,” Chambers said. “I think people underestimate how hard it is, even for four people who have played together to add one new person. It changes things and situations.
“What was comfortable before may not be comfortable anymore. But as the season has gone on, it’s gotten back to that comfortable feeling knowing what each other will do.”
And it paid off for the Wildcats, who will make their fourth NCAA tournament in five years when they tip-off against Princeton on Saturday at 10:20 a.m. (CST).
“I will forever remember this year,” said Dickey, who scored a career-high 20 points and came away with six steals in her first game at K-State. “Every athlete wants to finish their last year the best they can. At Arizona, I finished there, but I didn’t really get to finish it like I wanted to. But this year has been an opportunity for me to finish strong and be so proud, and so thankful and so blessed.”