Player Profile: Gianna Vastola

From the The Brunswick News

Gianna Vastola

Betsy Harris went with her instincts when she offered a scholarship last spring to freshman forward Gianna Vastola.

The women's basketball coach at College of Coastal Georgia looked at a recruiting tape of Vastola in April and liked what she saw, but wasn't blown away.

"I wasn't really sure if I wanted to offer her," Harris said. "My gut told me I should do it, so I just went with my gut. Something kept pulling her to me. I'm glad I did. That would have been a terrible decision by me if I hadn't."

That gut feeling served Harris well. Through 18 games in her inaugural season for her National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics team, the freshman is averaging a double-double: 12.8 points and 10. 9 rebounds per game.

That's not something the 5-foot-11 Vastola said she expected and, if the stars hadn't aligned properly, she wouldn't currently be the top rebounder in the Southern States Athletic Conference.

It all started with Harris taking a chance on her.

Vastola said she wasn't highly recruited in high school because she was late catching the attention of nearby college coaches. By the time her senior season ended at Riverview High in Sarasota, Fla., she remained unsigned. Finally, a recruiting service hired by Vastola sent out her tape, which wound up on Harris' desk.

Janele Tucker, a 5-10 senior Harris termed the team's leader in the post last season, had a concussion and wasn't available on Nov. 5 for the season's third game, which came on the road against Webber International, about two hours from Vastola's hometown.

With her family in attendance, Vastola got the opportunity to start in Tucker's place. In dire need of the leadership Tucker often provided, the Mariners trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half. Determined to impress both her coach and family, Vastola broke out with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

"I just didn't want to lose in front of my family," Vastola said.

The Mariners trailed 81-65 with less than six minutes remaining and came back to win 92-89, which helped fuel a school-best 15-game win streak.

"If we didn't have Gianna, we would have lost that game for sure," Harris said. "That was her coming out party. She got some key rebounds there at the end. She got fouled and got on the line and made some free throws for us to help us win it."

Olivia Melvin, one of three upperclassmen on Coastal's roster, said Vastola took the team by surprise with her outburst.

"You wouldn't expect a freshman to be that intense in a game like that," Melvin said. "Everybody was kind of down in the first half and for a freshman to bring that kind of energy, I loved it. She wanted the ball. She craved to have the ball in her hands. I fed it to her and watched her score every time and get every rebound that came her way."

Gianna VastolaVastola is normally very reserved, which could explain why her performance against Webber came as a surprise. Where Tucker was more of an outspoken leader, Vastola allows her game to do the talking.

"I don't like to yell at people," Vastola said. "That's not my personality. I like to lead by example rather than getting in somebody's face. If I start scoring or make some good defensive plays, it brings energy to the court."

That's a characteristic Harris wants to change because there's still a need for a vocal leader to emerge on the team. Tucker's season ended Nov. 30 when she shattered her elbow in a game against Thomas University, leaving the Mariners thin in the frontcourt. Right now, Harris is looking toward her talented freshman.

"I think I should," Vastola said of being that vocal leader. "It's something that I have to get better at. I should take a little more control, vocally. I feel like I've earned the right. I feel like my teammates definitely respect me. It's not about being out of place (as a freshman), it's more about getting out of my comfort zone.

"I know Coach Harris is looking for people to step up and be leaders. I really want to try to do that."

When the team suffered its first loss of the season on Jan. 11 against Blue Mountain College, Harris said she witnessed a hint of Vastola's competitive side when she addressed her teammates about their rebounding efforts.

"I saw a bit of emotion when I heard her tell the girls to go get some rebounds," Harris said. "She never does anything like that. Her competitive side was starting to come out, and I was glad to see it."

When it comes to skills, Vastola's the total package, Harris said. She can already rebound and score in the post, but there are parts of her game she has yet to unleash on opposing defenses.

"She's got the prettiest shot I've ever seen," said Harris, whose Mariners are 16-2, ranked 24th in the nation and host Southern Polytechnic State University today in a battle between the top two teams in the SSAC East division.

"She can score inside or out. She can shoot it as well as any of them, she just doesn't do it as much. I would like to see her get some more attempts."

And she can dribble pretty well, too. In fact, emotion might be the only thing keeping Vastola from being a dominant player.

"I think she can eventually become unstoppable because she's so smart and she's so skilled," Harris said.

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Release Date: 1/23/2014
Source: The Brunswick News

By NATHAN DEEN