All Emma Ostermann ever wanted was to play basketball at Kansas State.
That dream turned into reality two years ago when not only was she recruited by the Wildcats for what she thought was a walk-on spot, but wound up earning a scholarship to play for the program she had watched from afar growing up in Abilene.
Ostermann, who transferred to K-State from Cloud County Community College, still remembers the day vividly when she learned she’d be a Wildcat.
“I thought I was going to be a walk-on, but Coach (Deb) Patterson said they had a scholarship available, so I said, ‘OK, that’s even better,’” Ostermann said during an interview this week. “Getting a chance to fulfill your dream is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… I just sat there with a big smile on my face.”
The 5-foot-8 senior guard is still smiling, everyday, in fact, despite her reserve role with K-State.
In a way, it’s that drive to go to practice everyday with a smile on her face and do her job that helps define what this kinesiology major means to the K-State program.
“Emma’s an incredible person and every team needs role players who understand what they bring that is special and unique,” K-State assistant coach Shalee Lehning said. “Emma embraces that and comes to practice everyday ready to work her tail off and has a what-can-I-do-for-this-team attitude.”
Brittany Chambers said Ostermann took a big step from her junior year to her senior season — though not visibly seen in terms of production on the court. But for Ostermann and her mission with the Wildcats, it’s not entirely about how many points she scores or rebounds she hauls down. It’s bigger than that for the former Cowgirl standout.
“A year ago, she was really hesitant and played almost like a freshman as she tried to adapt into the program,” Chambers said. “Now, this year, she’s played like a senior. And to make that big of a leap in one year is unbelievable.
“She works with our younger players and shows them what it takes to be in this program and how hard you have to work. She’s constantly pushing them to be their best… She’s like a another coach out there.”
It’s a role not meant for everybody, a supportive role many wouldn’t covet. After all, Ostermann only averages about 5 minutes a game, scoring just 14 points all season — 3-of-15 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line.
“Very few people can do that, with that selfless heart, especially nowadays,” Lehning said. “She’s one of those players that puts her selfish desires aside and does everything for the betterment of the team.”
And while there isn’t nearly as much glory associated with the day-to-day work Ostermann does as a member of the Wildcats, it’s not a function the K-State coaching staff takes lightly.
“We’ll get mad at Brittany for being selfish in the way she plays, just as much as we’d get mad at Emma for not doing what she’s supposed to do in her role,” K-State associated head coach Kamie Ethridge said. “But the thing about Emma is that she rarely doesn’t do the things she’s supposed to do.”
But it’s being in that position of support Ostermann relishes and takes a lot of pride in, knowing what her job is, day-in and day-out, for the Wildcats, who host rival Kansas on Sunday at noon.
“It’s not hard to do, for me,” said Ostermann, who is applying for graduate school at K-State. “Everyone has a role on this team and I felt like this was to be my role. Brittany and Jalana (Childs) are great leaders and that suits them. But for me, I was ready to come in and be the supportive role and a voice for this team.”
Ostermann, whose parents and older brother graduated from K-State, had the opportunity to attend a smaller school, which likely would have meant more playing time. Yet, Manhattan is the only place she wanted to be.
“When K-State gave me this opportunity, I had to do it,” said Ostermann, who also considered Kansas Newman, Emporia State and Washburn University. “This was my biggest dream to come here. I possibly could have played more at other schools, but this is where I wanted to be. I have no regrets at all.”
Lehning, who like Ostermann, grew up a small-town Kansas kid wanting to wear the purple and white, said finding the right fit isn’t always about finding the most playing time.
“Kids like that, sometimes you can get far more out of an experience than just playing time,” she said. “She saw that here. She’s been able to be part of a Big 12 basketball program, a Kansas kid, grew up an hour from here, been able to travel the world and is part of a big thing.
“And not that going small to play is bad thing. It’s just that she wanted to do this and be part of K-State, which just speaks to how special Kansas State is and how much pride Kansas kids take in wanting to be part of what we have here.”