CARR: Urgency Hits Gartrell In Final Season
A.J. Carr, a 51-year veteran of the sports writing ranks, has joined the GoPack.com staff as a contributing writer. A Wallace, N.C., native and a graduate of Guilford College, Carr spent more than 42 years on the staff at the Raleigh News & Observer, covering generations of Wolfpack sports. Both of his sons, Greg and Brad, are NC State graduates.
BY A.J. CARR
RALEIGH, N.C. - There is a hint of urgency in her voice. There is a glint in her eyes. Nikitta Gartrell hears the clock ticking.
With a little time remaining in her college basketball career, there is still a lot NC State's ebullient senior guard wants to accomplish.
One explosive scoring game, or less than a handful of average nights, and she can become the 26h Wolfpack women's player to total 1,000-career points..
"She's got a beautiful jump shot," observed coach Kellie Harper. "We are talking with her now about extending her game and getting to the basket more."
During a recent practice, Gartrell occasionally drove to the hoop, once slashing through a thicket of hands and arms and feathering a shot in from close range.
"She is very coachable," Harper said. "Ask her to do something and she responds."
While Gartrell says joining the elite 1,000-point club would be a "great accomplishment," she is more focused on leading the Pack (11-6) to victories, finishing strong, and improving her status with WNBA scouts.
"I think about all the senior leadership I had when I was a freshman," said Gartrell, in her third year as a full-time starter. "That's what I'm trying to do, push my teammates to the next level. We want to continue to win, get better each day, and have no regrets at the end of the season."
After a sporadic start the 5-foot-9 Gartrell stopped trying to force plays, get in the offensive flow and make plays. That altered approach has led to greater consistency over the past month.
She is State's second leading scorer (11.0) behind Bonae Holston (11.9), ranks second in steals with 25, and entered this season as the Wolfpack's No. 3 career free throw shooter (77.0 percent). She also is the Pack's best defensive player, says Harper, citing her strength, sprinter's speed and basketball savvy.
Gartrell isn't bashful around the boards, either. In State's 73-45 upset win over Maryland, she snared a team-high 11 rebounds for her third career double-double.
"She's blessed with amazing athletic ability," Harper said. "She is motivated, wants to win, and understands time is running out."
Gartrell, who regularly stops by the basketball office to chat with staff members, draws inspiration from Harper's knowledge, competitiveness and compassion.
"She is the perfect coach," Gartrell said. "Her presence is a blessing."
PASSION FOR PLAY
Growing up in Atlanta, Gartrell was intrigued by athletics at an early age and participated in multiple sports.
As a student at Benjamin E. Mays High, she scored 2,800 career points, ran track, and played the piano. Street & Smith magazine ranked her as the 18th best senior basketball prospect in the country in 2006.
Some of her toughness came from going one-on-one against older brother, Mario. She claims a "couple of wins" over him during their sibling court rivalry.
Not that life was all hoops and hoopla. Gartrell never knew her father and in the eighth grade moved in with her aunt, Danielle Livingston, who became a strong, positive influence.
While expressing love for her mother (Terri), Gartrell said: "Without [my aunt], none of this would be possible. She kept me focused, helped me straighten things out."
Gartrell remains close to Livingston. Also to her grandmother, Mary Ann Gartrell, a Christian minister whom she calls before every game to have prayer.
POETRY IN MOTION
Away from basketball, away from the tumult and shouting, Gartrell enjoys drawing and writing poetry.
Though not aspiring to become a Ms. Picasso, she produced a self portrait for an Art Appreciation project.
As for writing, two of her poems are about the late Kay Yow, her former Wolfpack coach. Another centers on her first year at NC State.
Yet Gartrell, on track to graduate this spring, eventually wants to be a police woman. That interest was spawned when she was in the 10th grade, watching Law & Order SVU, which is still one of her favorite television programs.
Asked what intrigued her about the law enforcement profession, she flashed that smile Harper said "can light up a room," and responded: "Maybe it's the car, the siren, the uniform, the handcuffs."
But at the moment, with the clock running, her concentration is on producing a memorable senior season, helping State succeed -- and later giving pro basketball a shot.
"I want to play until I can't play anymore," Gartrell said. I'm blessed [now] to wake up every day and do something I love."