Hamilton, ON- Don’t be fooled by her quiet demeanor. Don’t be fooled by the fact teammate Ashley Guerriero calls her “the sweetest person you would ever meet.”
When McMaster Marauders guard Deanna Mataseje steps onto the hardwood, something else happens. Something different than what it might appear.
“I don’t think she could ever hurt a fly really,” Guerriero said. “But on that basketball court…she’s another person.” Mataseje has a different mindset, according to her. A killer mindset.
Her teammates, coaches, opponents and those at the Burridge Gymnasium saw that killer mindset in the McMaster women’s basketball team’s three straight home wins over the Toronto Varsity Blues, Windsor Lancers and Western Mustangs.
They saw Mataseje pick the pocket of one Toronto player after another on her way to a career-best six steals in their home opener. For good measure, she picked up three more steals each against Windsor and Western in the next two games.
You could be dribbling and suddenly…swoop, the ball would be gone and Mataseje and her teammates would be going the other way.
They saw her tie her career-best with nine assists against Western – finding open teammates and running the offence. They saw all the little details and mentality from the player who made that happen.
Mataseje has carved out an identity and role for herself in her fourth year at McMaster. She’s making good decisions and distributing the ball on offence, McMaster head coach Theresa Burns points out. Look at her assist-to-turnover ratio: 55 assists to 28 turnovers – tied for fourth-best in U SPORTS.
The Ancaster native is also known for her tenacious defence. She is second in the nation with 3.4 steals a game. She’s arguably one of the best perimeter defenders in U SPORTS.
She fell in love with defence from an early age. Perhaps it came from all her coaches who pushed her from her time at Hamilton Transway to Bishop Tonnes to McMaster.
Defence wins championships. That’s her mindset and it was drilled into her head over time. Mataseje found it was where she excelled the most. Where she loved giving all her effort towards. “I don’t want to let that go,” she said. “I want to keep that all the way through.”
She’s done so in her career. Mataseje will often guard the other team’s top guards. She has a quiet personality. However, for those players, it’s something to beware.
“She’s deceptive,” Burns said. “You don’t think she’s moving as fast as she is sometimes…”
Burns knows what lies underneath that outside appearance though. She knows her smarts, her quick hands, her understanding of angles and her relentlessness. She knows her love for defence. The question is: do her opponents know all that – and can they do anything about it?
Here’s another question. If you gave her a choice between hitting a shot or picking a player’s pockets, what would she choose? Picking their pockets, according to Burns.
How does she do so? When Mataseje is guarding someone, she tries to anticipate where they’re going to pass to. She’s always trying to think one step ahead.
She knows how important defence is – perhaps from all those talks with coaches over the years. She knows how the Marauders love to run in transition and how her defence can spark that.
Her teammates followed her lead as the team had 13 steals each against Windsor and Western. When they got those steals, they pushed the ball up ahead, scoring off fast break opportunities.
When Guerriero sees Mataseje’s killer mentality, it pushes her to do the same. When the first-year guard subs into the game, she thinks to herself: I’ve got to play really hard here. I’ve got to win for the rest of the team as well.
The first-year guard tries to mimic Mataseje’s defence. She sees how her teammate is always in the right position to get that arm in there to knock the ball loose or pick off the pass. How she’s in the right spot for team defence. The sweet spot, she calls it.
While Guerriero sometimes comes in as a sub for Mataseje, she got a chance to play alongside her against Windsor. “Being able to play on the floor with her and being with the killer mindset as well, it just pumps me up,” Guerriero said.
Perhaps it’s the circle of life – or at least university basketball life. Not too long ago, Mataseje was in Guerriero’s shoes. She was the one making her university basketball debut.
Being in fourth year means being more of a leader than ever before. She’s now giving teammates advice she once received.
As a self-described quiet person who likes to keep to herself, it’s an adjustment. Like her defence, she knows how important it is for her to be vocal.
Fifth-year guard Jenna Button – who played with Mataseje for two years in high school – sees how she leads by example on the court with her heart and hustle. “A silent killer,” she calls her.
She sees how she uses her voice as well. “She’s come out of her shell so much and it’s just so amazing to see,” Button said.
During those halftime team talks and moments on the court, she’s giving her input. When the players huddle together, she’s giving directions. She’s often the communicator, the link between the coaches on the bench and her teammates on the floor.
“We need that,” Button said. “We need someone to calm the nerves.” It’s okay. This is what we’re going to do next, Mataseje tells them.
A true point guard. That’s how Guerriero describes her. She notices how Mataseje is directing the play and telling them where to go. She learns from her. She knows she can approach Mataseje if she has any questions about anything.
Mataseje’s growth as a leader is also fuelled by others. She credits Guerriero and the other rookies for always having so many questions and always being ready to learn. It’s a two-way street. They give each other advice about a lot of things. They’re learning together.
She works on being vocal and talking on the court – during games and practices. She knows her fellow veterans have her back. They’re all going through this leadership transition together.
They’ll pick her up when she’s down. When Mataseje isn’t saying anything, they’ll speak up. In turn, Mataseje will do the same for them. “They’re always giving me the confidence to use my voice,” she said.
The teammate who’s supported her the longest is forward Amy Stinson. The two of them go way back – they’ve played on the same team since grade three. Mataseje can feel that connection they have on the basketball court.
Stinson knows how quiet Mataseje is and knows when to lift her up. Stinson will give her a pat on the back or tell her: ‘You got this’. When Stinson would do so, Mataseje would feel her confidence rise. “So little and so simple but she is so good at doing it,” she noted.
Mataseje’s impact is also seen in the simple details. From her steals and deflections to her effort to her personality.
To those lining up against her and those in the stands, she can appear quiet and unassuming. When the game tips off though…
All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, she will be seen and heard – with her words and her actions. All of a sudden, everyone will – and should – notice. Because if you’re not careful, she might steal the ball away from you too.
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics