By Kelly McHugh
Last year women's basketball sophomore guard Bri Craig had a lot on her plate.
While most true freshmen spend their first season on and off the bench playing minimum minutes only to be called off the court and corrected, Craig saw her time in the trenches.
Averaging 33.5 minutes per game during the 2012-13 season, Craig's total 1,220 minutes were the fourth most minutes played in a single season in K-State history, and were the second most minutes by a player on last year's squad (behind only former guard Brittany Chambers who finished with 1,379 minutes).
"I think that it was good for me to get that experience, play against some tough players and really get to see what the Big 12 is about at that high level of competition," Craig said. "It's really helping me now knowing that I've already gone through it full force. Most people, their sophomore year is when they really get those minutes, but I already know how it works."
Craig played in 36 of the Wildcats' 37 games last season and saw 34 starts. She guarded nationally renowned players like Baylor's Brittney Griner and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, who are both now playing in the WNBA (Griner is with the Phoenix Mercury while Diggins is with the Tulsa Shock).
"It was surreal, playing against Skylar Diggins, having to guard Brittney Griner," Craig laughed as she thought back to those memories from her freshman career. "In the moment it was crazy for me, but when I look back at it, it was a great experience."
But along with the positives of gaining experience came struggles, as well. Being a go-to player while also learning the ropes wasn't always easy.
"It was definitely, at times, hard for me," Craig explained. "There were a lot of times that I felt like, I was out here playing and getting unbelievable experience playing those minutes, but I did feel like sometimes I would have benefited from coming out and getting coached up on different things and different aspects. A lot of that stuff I just had to play through."
While she was playing majority of each game last year, Craig's role has now changed, and after a crazy first season she in now in the position to step back and learn a little bit more about the game.
This year, Craig has taken up the role of a relief player. She comes in the games when K-State needs that extra boost on the court. It's definitely different compared to a freshman season like she experienced, but it's a role she has learned to embrace.
"Last year since we only had seven (healthy players) we were expected to play the whole game," Craig explained. "I think it's been a little bit of a transition for me this season, but I'm settling more into coming off the bench and finding my role on the team, finding that spark and doing whatever I need to do to (help) my team."
With the opportunity to watch comes the opportunity to learn, which has been, according to head coach Deb Patterson a huge advantage to Craig's growth as she continues her collegiate career.
"What she has done is she's learned to embrace that role, to be able to come in and change the game," Patterson said. "To be a difference maker, evaluate what's happening earlier in the game and get a feel and not have to be reacting in play, I think has been really helpful to her. I think her basketball IQ has grown as she's stepped on the floor because she has watched."
As she grows and continues to learn and improve, there are two people who Craig knows will always have her back. Her parents, Terri and Curtis Craig, both know what life is like as a student-athlete and continue to support her whenever she needs them.
Craig's mom, Terri (formerly Parriott) played guard for the Nebraska Women's Basketball team from 1981-85 while her father, Curtis was a running back and wide receiver for Nebraska football from 1974-77.
"It's really nice having both of them and being able to talk to about being a student-athlete," Bri Craig said. "(Women's basketball) has obviously changed since my mom played, I make fun of her sometimes. They didn't even have a three-point line for women when she was playing. So it's funny things like that, but she definitely gives me pointers."
Though her parents are both Nebraska alumni and both competed for the Cornhuskers in their college days, Craig said they were excited for her when she made the decision to play basketball at K-State.
"I didn't really know that much about K-State until I took an unofficial visit. I loved it," Craig said. "I loved the atmosphere, the coaches, the players, the school itself and the family like atmosphere. It was a big decision, but my parents, they support me in anything I do regardless of if I was at Nebraska or K-State."
So far this season Craig is averaging 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, while as of recent her scoring (eight points vs. Iowa State on Jan. 18, and 13 points at Baylor on Jan. 22) continues to make an impact on the game.
"She's beginning to feel a little bit more comfortable now in her own skin," Patterson said. "Her tempo and timing, not rushing things, not playing quite so quick, and letting herself be fundamental is beginning to grow her game. It's fun to see her game beginning to come together."
Coming off of an 84-65 loss to Iowa State, K-State (9-12, 3-7 Big 12) will travel to Morgantown, W. Va., this weekend to take on the Mountaineers (19-3, 8-2 Big 12) on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 1 p.m.