Australia native Sara Anastasieska is more than ready to take on her final year of collegiate basketball at the University of Illinois. She has been waiting a full year to get back onto the court due to the COVID Pandemic, and she has been preparing all off-season to make her final year of her college basketball career a memorable one.
The University of Illinois announced in April the addition of Anastasieska to its roster. Anastasieska said she loves change and that is the reason why she moves around a lot. She started her collegiate career at The University of Texas at San Antonio before she transferred to the University of California, Berkeley for four years. She then went on to Duke University for a year and is now ending her career with Illinois.
Anastasieska said that she chose to transfer to Illinois because she and the coaching staff have a great relationship and have always kept in touch since before she transferred to Duke University.
“I have great relationships with all my teammates and all my coaches, it just feels natural. I can say what I need to say or I can ask anyone if I ever need help with anything,” Anastasieska said. “I think it's kind of a mutually beneficial relationship where I can ask them anything and they'll help me and vice versa.”
During her senior season at Cal, Anastasieska started in 25 games out of the 29 games she appeared in. She averaged 7.8 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. She had a career-high 25 points at No. 5 UConn when she sank five three-pointers and went 9 for 25 overall in field goals.
When she attended Duke University, she received her Master’s in Business in one year. Due to COVID, her basketball season was cut short after appearing in four games. In one of her four games, she was able to score a season-high 23 points against Western Carolina.
Since Duke opted out of the 2019-20 season, Anastasieska was able to travel back to the Bay Area and work out with Unlimited Potential Basketball’s Coach Packie Turner. Anastasieska and Coach Packie have been working together for about four years, ever since she played basketball at Cal. During their workouts, they focused on making sure her shots were consistent as well as her ball handling. Not only did working out help Anastasieska in her physical game, but also her mental game.
“I think that [the training with Coach Packie] helped me mentally for sure,” Anastasieska said. “I talk to Packie a lot. We talk about just the mental stuff [and] after the games he’ll tell me what I did well and what I need to improve on. So I think he's always been there, and he knows everything I've gone through.”
During this off-season, Anastasieska and Coach Packie worked on conditioning to get her body right and back into game shape. She said she and Coach Packie continued to work on the mental side of her game to get her back into the right headspace for the upcoming season.
Last season, the Illinois women’s basketball team finished 5-18 overall, and finished 13th in the Big Ten 2020-21 Women’s Basketball Standings. Anastasieska is ready to make her mark on the team and make a difference for the upcoming season.
“I knew coming into the program I could be a big piece immediately…” Anastasieska said. “I thought I could come in and kind of do my part, be a big part of wins, and try to kind of get the program back to where it used to be.”
Anastasieska is looking forward to many things this upcoming season including playing in front of a crowd again. She said the crowd makes it super exciting on game day and she is ready to get back on the court in front of them. She is also looking forward to being on a team that she feels comfortable with being herself.
“Everyone expects things out of me, and I expect the same thing out of everyone else,” Anastasieska said. “I'm happy to be at a place where I'm valued as a player and a person at the same time.”
Throughout her career, Anastasieska has overcome many trials and tribulations including her injuries and trying to play through a pandemic. She said the biggest aspect she has learned and will use towards her final year is never giving up. She has a next play mentality and plans to keep that mentality at Illinois.
The women’s basketball team’s season officially starts on Tuesday, November 9th when they host North Carolina Central. Until then, Anastasieska will continue to prepare for the season with her teammates and focus on continuing to get better in the sport she loves.
“I'm a super passionate and hardworking person so I think for me, [basketball] is a way to express that I'm super competitive,” Anastasieska said. “I love people, and helping people and teaching people, so I think all of that combined is why I love basketball and why I feel like I can do it for a really long time.”
Smith has been with UPB for a few weeks now and is helping with group training and private training. He said he has enjoyed seeing the variety of different athletes that come into the gym from division I college basketball players all the way down to three year olds. He said group training has been his favorite part so far, being able to interact with a lot of different athletes and helping them improve throughout the sessions.