It’s a brisk Thursday morning in Boone as Katie Mallow works in her office at the Holmes Convocation Center, the same place she played for four years as a member of the Appalachian State University women’s basketball team.
She combs through emails and is busy planning the team’s upcoming trip to Georgia. This is just one of the many tasks that fall under the job description of her new occupation: graduate assistant.
A graduate assistant is not a position known by many outside the college basketball community. She does not get a lot of publicity. There weren’t articles written about the promotion in the local papers. Sometimes she doesn’t even get to travel with the team, but her role is a key one for the other coaches and players.
“I’m an assistant,” Mallow said. “I assist with anything anyone needs. I help break down game film with assistant coaches. I help in practice sometimes. I play a scout team role. It’s great coaching experience and great life experience.”
Mallow said she is also in charge of some alumni gatherings, the managers, the scout guys, the gear and perhaps most importantly, the food.
She is tasked with organizing meals, whether at home or on the road. The players receive meals before and after every game, and when they travel all meals are planned and provided, but there have been plenty of times where things did not go as planned.
“We don’t always follow what I have planned out,” Mallow said. “Some things you just can’t plan for when you’re traveling, but we try to.”
Before getting this position, Mallow put herself in the record books during her time as a player at Appalachian State and sits eighth all-time in made 3-pointers with 128. She also ranked in the Top-25 in scoring in the Sun Belt during her senior season and was a team leader throughout. According to App State Sports, she finished her playing career with 891 points, 171 assists and 114 steals.
Because of her consistent on-the-court play, Mallow has also been able to reach her players in a way some coaches cannot.
“It might be a text I send to one of them after practice or just bringing them aside during practice to talk to them about something I’m seeing, that maybe the coaches have seen too, but I could deliver in a different way that might be easier for them to understand,” Mallow said.
Players have been affected by Mallow’s consistent positivity.
“As a grad assistant, she’s been fearless,” senior guard Farrahn Wood said. “She knows that she has to be positive. She is the positive voice for us.”
Mallow’s ability to relate to players and stay positive has resonated with the team.
“She’s always been really positive, but now she’s able to see a little bit more since she’s off the court, so she’s really insightful,” junior forward Mia Marshall said. “She was in our position, so she knows how to get it across to us differently than the coaches do.”
Head coach Angel Elderkin said that, regardless of the situation, Mallow has never made it about her personal collegiate success.
“She was the type of player that transitioned to this role and made an immediate separation,” Elderkin said. “You never hear her talk about ‘When I played.’ She just wants them to succeed. She never makes it about her.”
She has also been able to offer off-the-court advice to help the Mountaineer players and coaches.
“Having played with some, I know how to talk to them, and I know how good they can be,” Mallow said. “The players are more comfortable with me so they’re more candid. They say things that they probably shouldn’t around me, and then it’s my choice to do what I want with that information.”
Elderkin said she uses this ability to gain a feel for where her team is at.
“I trust her,” Elderkin said. “She’s really good at being able to provide a pulse for me, but never crossing the line. I feel our players can communicate to her.”
As important of a role as Mallow plays, it could just have easily never happened. Mallow had never even thought about applying for the position, or continuing in college basketball.
“My senior year I started thinking about what I wanted to do,” Mallow said. “Like most seniors, they’re like ‘Oh no, I’m almost done.’ I just didn’t have something job-wise that I wanted to go after right away. I really enjoyed playing basketball in college, and that was my goal that I had set for myself for the longest time. I had never thought about going further.”
During her senior season Mallow gained a close relationship with Elderkin, which led to her applying for, and ultimately getting, the job; a position which had over 50 applicants, according to Mallow.
“I’ve always had a passion for hiring former players to help them on their path,” Elderkin said. “I’m a new coach to App, and I’m trying to establish this culture. The more we talked, to be on my staff as a former member of the program here, a member of my transition, I [thought] it would just be awesome.”
Mallow said that Elderkin understood the type of person she was, and that made the process quick and easy for both sides. The players have benefitted from having the familiar face around.
“Her new role gives her a new perspective on the things that she went through,” Wood said. “It’s unique that she’s a grad assistant from the same school, so she saw it from both perspectives, and now she can articulate it in a way that makes sense to us.”
Mallow, who majored in psychology as an undergrad, is currently attending Appalachian State’s graduate school. She aims to use her education as well as what she’s learned from playing and coaching as tools to help her in her dream job: being a high school counselor and basketball coach.
Through these opportunities, Mallow has a gained a new outlook on life that she’ll use in both professions.
“I’m gonna let my players know how much I care about them and love them as people,” Mallow said. “They need that. No matter what, basketball is just a game. It’s just an avenue to do a lot of great things, but their worth is beyond how good of a basketball player they are.”
As for now, Mallow will continue in her role at Appalachian State, and Elderkin said she plans to continue to use her abilities to communicate and relate to the players.
“She was their teammate and their sister,” Elderkin said. “Now she’s their bigger sister, trying to help them get through the same challenges that she went through.”
Story by: Colin Tate, Sports Reporter