Jodie Karsak leaving Lady Panther basketball was never about Jodie Karsak.
When reaching former players, coaches and mentors to talk about Karsak’s era with Derby basketball, the first word that came to mind was of course, uncommon. The word has been at the helm of the program for years and, when the Karsak family realized its future was elsewhere, she began the process of stepping away from one of the top program’s in Kansas.
I began seeing that the story of Karsak’s tenure wasn’t so much about the wins and the losses, but what she instilled in her players and the people she worked with.
These are those words, in and of themselves, that tell the best story of Jodie Karsak. Joining us are former players Kennedy Brown, Madi Greenwood, Sydney Nilles and Tor’e Alford. Also included are boys’ coach Brett Flory, former Derby coach Caleb Smith and Karsak’s high school coach, Steve Ingram.
SMITH: “It’s difficult to get to the level that she has gotten to with that program … we knew [when I was coach] that we had talent coming in. She is a phenomenal coach with a tremendous basketball program, but her biggest asset is her ability to connect with kids. She’s like a sports psychologist.”
INGRAM: “You always have an idea that a point guard would be a great fit of someone who wants to be a coach … You could tell that if she wanted to coach, you knew she’d be successful at it because she had the background to do it.”
FLORY: “The thing about Coach Karsak is she could have not won a single game over her tenure and she would have still made a huge impact on our school and the girls she coaches. To me, that’s a measure of a high school coach. Yes, she’s had some phenomenal talent and she’s won a lot of games, but that’s not the most important thing she has done at our school. She shapes the young women that play for her into better human beings and those players love her for good reason.”
GREENWOOD: “It’s her time. She doesn’t have to do this, but she does it because she loves it and cares about her players and her staff. She wants nothing more than to see them succeed.”
BROWN: “I remember going to camp in middle school when she just started coaching. Just being around some of the older girls, Grace Mitchell, Chandler Benway, Hannah Steinert and Katie Hartman … I’d watch them play then and I could tell there was something special about her coaching. You could feel it in just talking to those girls before I got into high school.”
INGRAM: “Her thirst for knowledge came out when she first took that job. She and her husband came up to Kansas City and we spent a couple of hours together to talk basketball. She has a great wealth of wanting to know and making sure she did things the right way.”
GREENWOOD: “Watching her growth from starting with a program that wasn’t very good to building it into a powerhouse … they’ve won state, they’ve been to state and now they’re a team to beat. It has been impressive to watch.”
BROWN: “She talks about being uncommon a lot and she holds us to that standard, but she does for herself and her staff as well. It’s not a double standard and it’s what sets her apart from other coaches. She doesn’t expect us to be perfect all the time … she holds herself to that uncommon standard and that’s how she got everyone on board with that. She was a great example of what she wanted to see from us in life, practices and in games.”
NILLES: “Playing under her … I knew coming in that the program had been down but they were getting better. Her main goal was for us to have fun and build relationships with each other. When you build those relationships, your team is going to get so much better. That’s no matter the talent you have.”
GREENWOOD: “She’s an open person and it makes it easy to talk to her. Her players can say anything to her and being able to communicate with her makes them want to believe in what she says. It’s the confidence she has in you as a player and it’s helpful to accept your role on the team.”
BROWN: “One time we passed around a basketball and we had to write the name or the initials of someone we were playing for that year … I wrote my younger sister [Addy] on there. I wanted to be a role model for her and inspire her to work hard and follow her dreams.”
ALFORD: “When she brought the blue ribbons to put on our shoes. That’s the moment that stands out the most to me [honoring her father, Amos, after he passed away when she was a sophomore]. We had the black long sleeves with an AA on them, but I didn’t know about the ribbons.”
NILLES: “[Game of playing with the ribbons for Alford’s father, Tor’e] She told us that we never know what life will give us and we have to attack every day. We had to play and work our hardest every day in life or sports.”
INGRAM: “Her leadership and character jumps out at you. The way she has developed and led that program … I’m not sure she could have done it that well without her character as an individual.”
BROWN: “After my freshman year and making it to state and getting a taste of that … we just got there and didn’t finish. We got just one game. I realized then how much hard work I had to put in to get myself and my teammates ready. We had to go hard every day, give our all and that’s what Karsak emphasizes. You have to leave everything off the court and out of the locker room that you don’t need during basketball and come out ready every day.”
INGRAM: After she coached against Manhattan [in the 2017 state championship game] for the win, but for the future of the team. She had some great young players and wanted to make it a learning experience so that when they got there again, they could build on that and take the next step.”
NILLES: “She gave me the most confidence she could. She had faith in the type of player I was and told me to not be afraid to make a name for myself … she kept telling me that I could play and that I had to believe in myself that I could.”
SMITH: “We’ve seen teams with as much if not more talent than them not do what they’ve done at Derby. It’s because she’s able to do all of the things outside of the X’s and O’s so well.”
FLORY: “You can count on one hand the number of games that have been lost lately … Not every coach can coach great talent and that is an art form in and of itself. She gets talented girls to buy into team, unselfishness, roles and defense.”
INGRAM: “I hope people realize how special of a person she is. Sometimes in coaching, you don’t get to know the person as well outside the sport. She is all about character, doing the right thing and helping her family and the girls she coaches … She is a tremendous individual and I hope the people in Derby remember that.”
GREENWOOD: “People are going to see a lot of special things this year. Last year was completely unfinished and we could have won it all. Being that it’s Karsak’s last year, they’re going to play 110 percent every game since she won’t be here next year and they’ll want to go out big with her.”