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Army West Point’s Scoring Leader, Kelsey Minato!

KelseyMinato

Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

Kelsey Minato leads Army West Point on and off the Court.

By Bob Corwin.

Recently Pass Tha Ball had a chance to sit down with Army West Point’s Kelsey Minato who, during her senior year, has become the program’s all-time leading scorer while helping her team to compete for the Patriot League title.  What makes this more remarkable is that she has done this while serving as the team’s point guard, generally only taking shots that flow from the offense.   Having a chance to watch her in a live game, what is most impressive is her never flustered, calm demeanor even under intense pressure.

Below Kelsey gives our readers a chance to get to know one of Army West Point’s top “student athletes” in the truest sense of those two words.   What might be most ironic is that one would never describe Minato as a gunner (think Minnesota’s Rachel Banham hunting shots on her way to scoring 50 plus) on the court but her future is soon to be involved with the United States Army’s Field Artillery Branch, a very bang bang world!

First, Army West Point Head Coach Dave Magarity discusses Kelsey Minato and then recruiting to a military academy…

PTB: How did Kelsey Minato come on to your radar?

DM:  “We had an opportunity to see her at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix during her senior year with her high school Huntington Beach High School.  She was being recruited primarily on the West Coast but had opened up her recruiting.  I think she had her eye on a few schools that had taken other players so it was obviously very good for us that she was still available so late [December of her senior year].  It was late for us recruiting in the process here [at West Point].  We are normally getting
involved with kids in tenth or eleventh grade [as the admissions process is so lengthy].  We just saw her at the tournament.  We were very impressed with her.  We followed up and from that point on the recruiting became serious from both ends.”

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Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

PTB:  Was it hard to convince her to come to West Point?

DM:  “I think in the beginning it was a matter of laying out our program and what we had to offer.  She did have some military in her background with her grandparents.  I just think the family was intrigued because of the academics here.  She is a very good student.   All those things got the ball rolling.  She is a terrific offensive player, one of the best three-point shooters I had seen.  It morphed from there into a step by step process.  When she visited in the spring, she visited us and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut once she was here in the East.   After the visit, we felt pretty good.  Her parents really liked the situation.  The biggest challenge was getting her admitted so late because the class [of 2016] had pretty much closed up numbers wise.  It had nothing to do with her qualifications.  It was more of the selectivity here and the competitiveness of getting in.”

PTB: When did you realize you had a special player on your team?

DM:  “We knew she could play but as all freshmen go, there were adjustments in the transition from high school to here.  The one thing she possessed from the beginning was that she had the IQ that you really value.  A lot of kid just don’t have that.  So from the beginning I felt that. When you go back and look at her first two competitions, we scrimmaged the University of New Hampshire, where my daughter Maureen is the head coach, and then we scrimmaged Villanova.  In both of those scrimmages she did not stand out.  I believe she only scored four points in the UNH scrimmage and ironically in the Villanova scrimmage Caroline Coyer, who is a terrific player for them and having a great senior year [Sadly, Caroline suffered a season ending A.C.L. injury in February], really outplayed her.  I felt that sort of opened up her eyes.  From that point on, she had a really terrific game in her first official game versus Wagner College and then from there on you saw her develop at a very high rate.”

PTB: Minato obviously carries a huge scoring burden for your team.  How difficult has that been for her to handle over the last four years?

DM:  “She has really been challenged recently.  I would say in her junior and senior years people knew about her.  In her freshman year, her ability to score and create shots were a little different.  Teams had less of a focus on her defensively [then].  {Since then], she had to become a much better player off the ball.  Her ability to read and use screens and create on her own has really been a focus.  I have a great staff.  My Associate Head Coach Colleen Mullen, a great point guard in college, took her under her wing and brought her along developmentally as all my coaches have.  I think we are at a point with Kelsey where she knows what she is going to see night in and night out whether it is a double team or traps.  Every time she has the ball people are trying to get the ball out of her hands so we have had to become very creative in what we do offensively because you want to make sure she gets her shots.  Often, opposition defense is designed to take her out of the game and challenge other players to beat them.  We have to understand that other people need to step up.”

PTB: What has it meant for the program to have had a player as successful as Kelsey over the last four years?

DM:  “She is very special.  I think what she has been able to do here in becoming the all-time leading scorer in school history.  That is secondary to her.  Her goal is to get us back to the NCAA Tournament.  Historically, that would mean we would have gone to four straight national tournaments if we accomplish that goal.  There are a lot of things that rest on her shoulders which she handles with a lot of poise, dignity and class.”

PTB:  Finally, what happens if Kelsey gets drafted by a WNBA team?

DM:  “We have had a number of players go on and play professional sports in football, baseball and lacrosse.   I have talked to those coaches and the powers that be here in terms of making sure we have a plan in place.   We would have to work out details of attending training camp.  However the bigger issue would be if she was offered a contract and discuss with our JAG people [Army legal staff] here.  There are a number of options that she would have whether it would involved excessive leave or whatever that she would be afforded the opportunity.  The good thing about the WNBA is that it is a shorter season.”

PTB:  Switching gears, recruiting to the military academies is one of the most difficult assignments in sports?  How have you and your staff tried to handle it?

DM: “My staff just been incredible in how they have dealt with the challenge with everything that goes with national recruiting that we are faced with.  I think the ability to cover the country nationally is the country.  We are not recruiting outside the country because we are not allowed to.  We split the country up.  Texas is very much a hot bed for high school basketball for girls as is California where we have had tremendous success and in the Northwest.   Three of our players right now are from Portland, Spokane and Idaho and all three have been major contributors. We get out there and we try to identify the people that have an interest in selfless service which is pretty much what you are talking about when you make a decision to come here.  The recruiting business is so competitive and you got to really find the right individual who is really willing to sacrifice certain things and understand that basketball, as important as it is, has got to take a back seat sometimes.”

PTB:  Do you have much success with legacy cadets (those with past connections to the Academy)?

DM:  “Every once in a while you do.  Last year we graduated two-year captain Olivia Schretzman, who played on one of the really strong club programs out of the Dayton [Ohio] area.  Her dad was a great football player here.  She was a very important piece to our success.”

PTB:  What is your biggest argument for why a player should consider coming to play at West Point?

DM:  “It is obviously a unique opportunity.  When you are looking at kids that have that academic profile and have those dreams and goals to go Ivy [League], this opportunity provides you with that level of degree because we are consistently ranked high (sometimes #1 in the country), certainly top five as to the power of the degree in the country. Along the way, you are talking about a financial situation where you have no financial burden at all to you or your family.  I think some young kids at 17 don’t think about that as opposed to having to go into debt.  Even as a very good player at certain schools [such as the Ivies] those financial packages are going to entail a lot of loans and financial commitment [beyond college].  You get paid to go to school here.  The cadets draw a salary during their four years but there is a five year active duty military commitment upon graduation.  There are other benefits depending on major or field a cadet chooses.  Medical school is an example.  The government will pay for you to go to medical school. [More service time could be required depending on how this is paid for].   A lot depends on how successful you are here and how much you want to make a career of military service.  It is a pretty solid job with steady income if you want to put in your 20 years”.

PTB: Coach, thank you for your time!  

Kelsey begins by discussing how she got started in the game and how she came to West Point…

PTB:  You went to Huntington Beach (CA) High School but how did you get started in basketball?

KM: “I probably first picked up a basketball when I was about three years old.  My dad played when he was younger and we had one of those hoops you put on the back of a door and it hangs down.  One day I just picked up a small ball and just started shooting.  I have a brother who is two years older than I am.  He and I would play on that hoop a lot.  As I got older, probably when I was around four or five, we had an actual hoop in our driveway and that’s when I started shooting one of those mini-basketballs with my brother and my dad.  Ever since then I just kind of progressed through the years.  I think it was those early years that really helped my fundamentals of holding and shooting a basketball.”

PTB: Did you play any other sports in high school?

KM: “Not in high school. In eighth grade, I played soccer and ran track.  In kindergarten, I played T-ball and was pretty bad at it.”

PTB:  What club team did you play for?

KM: “Cal Swish [a Nike-affiliated club]”

PTB:  Growing up, did you know much about West Point or have any military connections in your family?

KM:  “I had no idea what West Point was.   People on the West Coast really don’t have much of an idea about West Point.  I do have a lot of family connections in the military.  My great grandfather served in World War 1 and my grandfather served in World War 2 in the Army Air Corps.  Both my dad’s brothers served in the Army and both my dad’s uncles served in the Army.”

PTB:  How did West Point come on the scene in your recruiting as you remember it?

KM: “I was in Arizona for Nike TOC. West Point was out there to play Arizona State University.  Coach Mullen just happened to come to one of my games during the tournament and it wasn’t even my best game by any means. It was probably one of my poorer performances of the tournament.  She came and probably liked what she saw.  She sent an email to my high school coach who forwarded it to me.  This was probably at the beginning of January of my senior year.  I sat on it for a couple of days.  Then I read through it again and it seemed very appealing and then did a lot of research.  I talked to my parents and I talked to some neighbors and other family members.  I was really attracted to the whole thing.”

PTB:  Did you have a “dream school” while growing up hoping to one day play there?

KM:  “I never had one.  I always wanted to stay in California because it was close to home and I liked the weather but I could not turn down West Point.”

PTB:  What other schools were in your final three?

KM:  “The other two division one schools that recruited me at the same time as West Point were Sacred Heart in Connecticut and New Mexico State.  I took an official visit to New Mexico State before I came here.  After my official visit here, I went to Sacred Heart for my official visit.”

PTB:  What sold you on West Point over the others?

KM: “The whole experience of everything that West Point has to offer, just being challenged in lots of different ways.  You are open to many different opportunities to travel and meet very influential people and just to be at a place where you are surrounded by people who are very competitive.  Just the atmosphere that challenges you to be a better version of yourself each day.”

PTB:  Do you consider yourself competitive?

KM: “I am very competitive in everything I do.”

Kelsey on adjusting to life at West Point and her first year as a college player…

PTB: What was the hardest adjustment from pre-West Point life?

KM:  “The first year was definitely the toughest.  You are trying to adapt to not only the military but you have all these other different obligations whether it be military or academic, just learning how to manage my time effectively and still complete all of my requirements and responsibilities.  That was a little bit challenging but eventually I got into the hang of things.”

PTB: At what point did you go from being a basketball player at West Point to being a cadet playing basketball?

KM:  “When you are at West Point first and foremost, you are a cadet.  We all know that once you graduate here we are going into the Army.  We are going to be officers so basketball is kind of an extra thing that we do.  We don’t forget that we are cadets first who also happen to play basketball.  I have never thought of myself as a basketball player at West Point.  I am a cadet first.”

PTB: Basketball-wise, what were your expectations going into year one?

KM: “I didn’t have any expectations. I was just hoping to get some playing time.  I remember [thinking] when we were in the pre-season, if I work hard in practice and listen to the coaches and take what they say and try to improve every day, hopefully I would get playing time.  I was really shocked that I had a starting position.”

PTB:  Were you surprised by being named Patriot League Player of the Year as a freshman?

KM:  “That was a big honor for me especially being a freshman. At that time, it was right before we were going to the Patriot League Tournament so I tried to block out and not think about it and continue to focus on basketball.  As a freshman, I wasn’t expecting that at all.  I was just hoping to get some playing time and contribute to the team in any way I could.  To be Player of the Year was special and was not expected.”

PTB: You repeated as Patriot League Player of the Year in your second year.  Did you entertain any thoughts of leaving and not starting year three? [Once a cadet starts year three, a military service commitment is incurred. Thus quitting before that point is often considered by cadets.]

KM: “I had no second thoughts or doubts about staying here.  It was just another thing that happens when we sign affirmation statement [indicating that you understand that you now have incurred a requirement of military service].  I do not know if my teammates had any reservations but I definitely had none.  I have really enjoyed my time here and have had a lot of fun.  I would not trade this experience for anything.” Kelsey reflects on herself as a basketball player, in particular being a point guard…

PTB: How would you describe yourself as a basketball player?

KM:  “I am pretty undersized. I don’t come off as being one of the most athletic or quick.  In a way that kind of works to my advantage because people kind of underestimate me.   For me, when I step on the court, I try to use my basketball IQ and use my fundamentals to outsmart my opponent.  I may not be the strongest, quickest or fastest player on the court but I think I have done a pretty good job of trying to make up for that in different ways whether it be becoming a better passer, move better off the ball or just get my teammates involved.  Find different ways to score and be more creative in how to approach each game.”

PTB:  Would you rather drive to the basket or take an open three?

KM: “Open three.”

PTB:  Do people compare you to Stephen Curry?

KM:  “Yes, that is definitely a big honor because he is a phenomenal player.”

PTB:  Has anyone told you your game is a lot like Leilani Mitchell who plays for the Phoenix Mercury?

KM:  “I will have to look her up.”

PTB:  Where do you think you have improved the most over the last four years?

KM:  “Trying to be more of a vocal point guard.  As a point guard, you are kind of a quarterback and floor leader.  I want to be that person that my teammates can look to for guidance and motivation and set and maintain the tone of each game.  I really didn’t have that my freshman and maybe my sophomore year but these past two years, I have really tried to work hard in controlling the game, dictating what I want to have happen on offense.”

PTB:  What areas would you like to still get better at?

KM:  “Coaches would definitely say defense.  I have really tried hard to improve my defensive game the past three years. For offense, it would be to continue to move better off the ball and working to quicken the release on my shot and work to find different ways to attack each defense.”

Kelsey briefly discusses the Star game and the rivalry with Navy…

PTB: Tell our readers the significance of the Navy “Star game.”  Is winning it as a senior the most important thing?

KM:  “The “Star game” is when we play Navy two times each year, the second time is what counts for the “Star game.”  If we beat Navy, we get a gold star that we can put on our jacket. If they beat us, I think they do likewise.  It is not just a big game because it is Navy but also because it is the “Star game” and my class has won the “Star game” the past three years [now all four].”

PTB: Is winning it your senior year the most important for a class?

KM:  “It probably is but each year has been special and cherished that win.”

PTB:  You have no idea who those kids are except to want to beat them as representing Navy?

KM:  “I know a couple of them but they are not friends.”

Kelsey on setting the career West Point scoring record…

PTB: This season you set the career West Point scoring record.  Any thoughts on having done it?

KM:  “That was a pretty cool accomplishment for me.  At the same time, I don’t see it as an individual achievement for me.  It is definitely a team achievement because I know if it were not for my post players posting up or setting screens for me, or the guards finding me in transition and in the [half-court] offense, I would not nearly scored half of those points.  I am grateful to them for having done that and to the coaching staff for letting me have freedom in the offense and giving me the green light to shoot and placing a lot of trust in me to be aggressive and take the shots when they are there.”

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Photo Credit: Bob Corwin

Kelsey gives us some insight into her off-court life as a Firstie (senior) cadet, being a member of the Long Gray Line and what her future may hold after graduation this May…

PTB: This past summer was your “Firstie” [before senior year] summer.  What did you do?

KM:  “I went home for two weeks at the end of May.  From there I flew to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  There, I shadowed a second lieutenant for two weeks so I got to see what the Army was like on a daily basis.  After that I came back here to West Point and did my leadership detail for four weeks at cadet field training [with second year cadets know as yearlings].  After that, we had a PIAD (Physical Individual Academic Development) with our team for about a week. It was just like basketball camp.  We also did weight lifting workouts and some open gym.”

PTB:  I understand you have a role in the cadet chain of command.  Can you explain it?

KM: “I am the Brigade Student-Athlete Advisory Officer.  Each college has a student-athlete advisory committee. For me, here at West Point, I work with varsity team captains, athletic department and the brigade staff which is the governing body for the Corps of Cadets.  I try to help to make sure they are all on the same page.  We have meetings periodically to discuss if there are any issues.  I also have meetings once a week with cadet chain of command [about 10 or so of the highest ranking cadets] and once a month with the athletic department.  This is a year-long post.”

PTB:  What is your major in school?

KM: “I am an environmental science major.”

PTB:  What are your future plans?

KM:  “I branched into the Signal Corps with a Field Artillery Branch detail.  I will go to Field
Artillery for about two or three years.  After that, I will transition into the Signal Corps Branch for the rest of my time.  You have to do five years active duty and three years reserve duty.”

PTB:  Would you like to try the WNBA if drafted or invited to a WNBA training camp?

KM:  “I think that would be a great opportunity but I don’t know how that would work given the military commitment. If the opportunity presented itself, that would definitely be something I would look into.”

PTB: I call this place one of the world’s largest fraternities that went coed in 1980. Is that a fair description?

KM:  “It is true.  The Army is a very small place from what I hear and the experiences that we have here with our classmates and with people [classes] above and below us will definitely last a lifetime.”

PTB:  I hear West Point always look to self improvement.  What one thing would you change within the context of the Academy’s objectives?

KM:  “That is a good question. A lot of the things here have been here for many years so they probably won’t ever change.”

PTB: You are here.  You are part of change. [The class of 1980 was the first with female members.]

KM: “True.  Put a little less stress on the plebes. They are overwhelmed. Their plates are pretty full as is.”

PTB:  What would you like to say to an individual who might be considering a military academy for college?

KM:  “Coming to West Point has definitely been the best decision of my life.  You are exposed to so  many different opportunities. You are at a place where you are going to be challenged every day.  While there have been challenging times, I definitely have experienced more satisfying and gratifying times.  I have had to overcome a lot of physical challenges and emotional challenges.  It is an experience that you are sharing with a bunch of different people from all different walks of life.  You are all experiencing the same thing and have that shared bond that will last a lifetime.”

PTB:  Kelsey, thank you for your time and best of luck moving forward with your career on and off the court!

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About passthaball (983 Articles)
We cover Girls Basketball and travel to so many places throughout the year looking for special talent, top teams, rival games, and playoffs! We decided to allow people to watch and getter a better understanding besides reading about it or seeing a photo of a player/team. Feel free to chime in and let us know what other talent is out there!

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