Karly Roser finds a way to make the best of every situation thrown her way. After sustaining a concussion in 2013, Roser was forced to sit out the first half of her junior season. The way she responded really shows the toughness and optimism of Northwestern's senior captain.
Roser shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the 13 games she played from January to March. While gradually working her way back to full strength and sharing time with freshman Ashley Deary, Roser played about 14 minutes per game and averaged 3.5 points and 2.5 assists per contest. Yet, just getting back to the court was a challenge on its own for Roser.
"It was pretty long and grueling and a lot of things going through my head," Roser said at practice Wednesday. "I really wanted to be on the court to help my team, but I did as much I could off the court, trying to be a supporter to Ashley in her new role and all the other girls as well."
During most of Roser's recovery period, she wasn't allowed to perform any basketball activities. But the end of the recovery process allotted Roser some time to sharpen her game and jump shot.
"More towards the last couple weeks (of recovery), I was allowed to get into some individual work. So I definitely did focus on my shooting during that time and during the summer as well," Roser said. "I think it has improved, and I'm more confident in taking shots in games."
What playing time the Hamilton, Ontario native missed during the 2013-14 season, she made up for during the summer. Roser played with the Canadian Senior Women's National Team (SWNT) at the Edmonton Grads International Classic exhibition series and with the Senior Women's National B-Team at the 36th William Jones International Basketball Tournament in Taiwan.
Roser averaged 6.4 points and 3.2 assists per game in Taiwan, and Canada went 5-0 to win the William Jones Cup. On top of the championship, the 5-foot-10 combo guard got more experience in international competition, a more physical game which she loves to play.
"It was really nice to be back on the court. I really love playing the Canadian style of play. It's a little different than down here, something that I'm more comfortable with for sure."
It wasn't Roser's first time competing in international play nor does she intend on it being her last. Roser was a starter and team captain for the Canadian U17 national team, which finished 11th in the FIBA World Championships, and she still has her sights set on making the Canadian Olympic Team.
"That's the end-all goal. I'm hoping to go professional next year. To keep playing, that's like one of their requirements to stay in the pool of athletes who are considered for the national team. So I'm still in contact with the coaches. They keep checking up on me. Hopefully, that'll continue the next couple years and I'll eventually make the team."
Amazingly, Roser may work just as hard off the court as she does on the court. Last season she was selected as an Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. Majoring in cognitive science, Roser plans to go to medical school and become a neurologist or pediatrician after her professional career is over.
Roser's hard work as an underclassmen is paying off now too. This quarter she has just three classes and what she considers to be the lightest load she's ever had at Northwestern. While trying to push through "a little bit of senioritis," Roser is focused on finishing her senior season strong.
In her second year as a team captain, Roser is still splitting time with Deary and playing 18.8 minutes per game. It's nowhere near the 35.6 minutes per game Roser saw as a sophomore, but she's taking it in stride.
"I'm just trying to do my part and do what I can for our team, try to bring some energy off the bench. With rebounding, I've been concentrating on that and trying to stop their best offensive player. Anything that coaches want me to do, I try to take that into consideration."
Roser's adjustment has been vital because the two ball-handlers complement each other so well. Deary is quick and scrappy, creates turnovers on defense and sparks the Wildcats' transition while Roser is a bigger, stronger defender who also has the composure to lead Northwestern's halfcourt set. Head coach Joe McKeown said the two work really well on the floor together and subbing in for each other.
"I think one of the reasons we're 12-2 and we've been in the top 25 is that they've played well together. They've both been able to learn how to play together, play without the ball," McKeown said. "It gives us a really good 1-2 punch when they're both on the court as far as running the team, transition, defensively."
Northwestern's 10-game winning streak to start the season was the longest streak in program history, and their appearance in the USA Today's top 25 poll generated more hype around the team's potential this year. But there's still a frontier McKeown has not reached at Northwestern. Roser wants to finish her college career on a high note and help McKeown and NU break through that barrier.
"I really want to make it to the NCAA tournament. I know everyone does. We've been talking about it for the past two years. That's a huge goal," Roser said. "If we could do that, it would really turn this program around and get some good recruits in here and then they'll be set for the next couple years."