Senior forward Natasha Mack is in the midst of a stellar season at Oklahoma State. In leading the Cowgirls to a 12-5 record, she is averaging 19 points, 11.9 rebounds and a Division I-best 4.18 blocks per game. Last month she became just the second player in program history to post a triple-double, with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks. She also had six steals and three assists. Mack has been named to the watch lists of the Katrina McClain Award, the Naismith Award, and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.
A native of Lufkin, Texas, Mack was a four-star prospect playing in high school. Before her senior year in 2015, she briefly walked away from the game after losing her love for it, but eventually decided to return for her final prep season. She signed with the University of Houston, but realized as soon as she got there that it wasn’t the right fit, so she walked away from the game for good. Mack returned home and got a job with Pilgrim’s Pride, where she processed poultry.
The following summer she was spotted by Randy McKelvey, an assistant coach at Angelina College in Lufkin. He eventually invited her to play for the Roadrunners, but she wasn’t interested. McKelvey had moved on when Mack had a change of heart and called him. He came to her work place, where she signed a scholarship offer on her break, and within a week she was moved into her dorm room there. She became the first at Angelina to earn first-team All-America status and be named both the NJCAA and WBCA player of the year. Mack broke the school all-time scoring record and finished her sophomore year as the nation’s blocks leader, with 180.
When Mack visited the Oklahoma State campus in Stillwater, she instantly fell in love with both the program and the community. After a great junior season that was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, she trained fiercely in the spring and summer with her older brother in preparing to return. Her goals include winning the Big 12 Tournament, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and being drafted into the WNBA.
Let’s go back to your first break from basketball, between your junior and senior year of high school. What was causing you to lose your love of the game at that point, and what made you decide to play?
I thought at that point I was burned out on basketball. I got talked back into it and started playing again, and I thought, “I can do this.”
When does the line turn to burnout?
Between my junior and senior year I was just like, uh uh. At that point I thought I was done with it. I fell in love with the game, fell out of love with it, and then fell in love with it again, and I’ve been with it ever since.
Was it the constant grind of year-round play that got to you?
Then you half-heartedly sign to play at Houston, and when you realize it’s not for you, you walk away from the sport that you once considered the love of your life. It takes some convincing to bring you back. What was it that made you ultimately decide to return?
Coach Randy McKelvey. He helped me before and I told him no, and he said OK. So a couple of days went by and I was thinking, do I really want to work in a chicken factory? I thought no, and I hit him back up. The next day he came on my break, and I signed the paper.
What is your major?
I’m studying business.
So after the WNBA you want to do something in business?
I want to coach. I’ve wanted to coach since high school.
What level of coaching?
Either college level, or up.
Is burnout over for you, or do you think that could come back at some point?
I think that’s over for me. I’m going until my body can’t go anymore. We on it now.
Is happiness the difference between free will and doing something you’re forced to do?
Yes, I’m actually happy about (basketball), excited about it. I look forward to practice; that’s a chance to better my game and help my teammates.
So Cowgirl practices are lit?
Oh yeah. Coach (Jim) Littell is a great guy. I love his corny jokes.
You’re from a sports family and loved basketball from an early age. What was it about that sport that drew you in, as opposed to other sports? Why did you love it so much?
I was taller than everybody else; it was easy for me to put the ball in the basket.
So you had a natural advantage.
Yes, and it would make me happy.
It was the first time you felt that sense of achievement.
Did you play a lot of pickup ball when you were younger?
Oh yeah, I basically lived at the park. I had an older brother, three years ahead of me, and if he went to the park, I was right behind him.
That’s where some of the best basketball happens.
They don’t call fouls, so you get used to that. When I get hit, I’m still about to score. If I miss, I go back and play defense.
What’s your favorite thing to do or move in basketball? What are you the best at?
I got this move down pat – it’s a face up, and I take a dribble and go right, then I shoot it, and it goes in almost every time. I think I’ve mastered that part of my game and now I need a counter, because other teams are starting to figure that out.
How much planning do you do for your play before games?
I think about it all the time, like after the game, before I eat, I go back and watch film. I’m thinking, “let me work on that.”
So you are truly a student of the game.
What is it about Oklahoma State and the Stillwater community that is special to you?
I get great energy from here – everybody’s so friendly and nice. I love it. I’m a happy person, and when everybody around me is happy, it’s even better.
What’s your favorite basketball memory so far?
It was last year after Bedlam. We just dumped this ice water on coach – it was amazing.
Those rivalry matchups are serious.
I didn’t understand how serious it was until I got here. My first Bedlam and I was looking around thinking, it’s serious!
You want to play in the WNBA. Do you have specific goals for when you’re playing pro?
I want to get to the league and I want to stay there, and I want to get respect. Because rookies don’t really get that respect.
Is there anyone in the game you’ve looked up to?
Kevin Durant and Elena Delle Donne. I like the style of her play, her personality, her ability to go inside and out, especially at the 4.
Would you consider yourself a hard worker? Including conditioning-wise?
Oh yes. I may complain a little bit, but it’s going to get done. Whatever I’ve got to do, it’s going to get done.
Do you want to play overseas?
Yes, I’d love to play overseas.
Are you a people person, more of a loner, or somewhere in between?
I can be both, depending on my mood. But I’m a people person, a social butterfly. I go around talking to everybody. But then sometimes I’m ready to be alone. Maybe watch Netflix.
Will you be one of those alumni that comes back to visit?
Oh yes, most definitely.
If you had one day where you could do anything you wanted to, completely free time, what would you do?
I’d probably get some shots up and take an ice bath.
(Laughs) That’s it?
What’s your favorite kind of music?
I love R&B, whether it’s early 2000’s or this generation, it’s the best genre. My favorite artist is J Cole. Also Summer Walker. Have you heard of Giveon?
Yes, and you just reminded me to check him out.
If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?
I would say, take your time and don’t be in a rush. You’re going to grow up soon enough.
You’ve had an unorthodox journey. Any regrets?
I actually have no regrets. Everything happens for a reason, and if it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
You’re enjoying every minute, aren’t you?
You can come back next year if you want to. You don’t want to return?
(Shakes head no) I’m going to take the opportunity while I have it.