She walks into the room with a bounce in her step.
She scans the room, her eyes bright and happy.
As you sit down to talk to her about basketball her eyes light up.
Her eyes fall, a faint smile of pride flickers across her face as she talks about what she’s accomplished.
Melissa Pater smiles. That’s one way she will be remembered.
“Playing basketball is what I love to do. So when I’m on the court I’m always having fun. And I think personally, when I’m having fun out there I’m playing at my best,” Pater says.
She’s not one to seek the spotlight but it seems to find her.
And why not?
The SDSU women’s basketball team won its first national championship and Pater was the catalyst.
In the semi-final game Pater scorched Bently College for 31 points. Then in the finals she put up 22 points and 11 rebounds cementing herself as the tournament Most Valuable Player.
“It’s a great way to end a season and a career,” Pater says.
“She was just a stud for six games, I don’t know how else to say it. She was feeling really good and playing with a lot of confidence and when a player has that it’s easy to have fun and smile,” Aaron Johnston, SDSU women’s basketball coach said.
Confidence oozed from Pater the entire year. She averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds against the top three teams in the North Central Conference, which is one of the top conferences in the country. On the year she held a 19.5 and 8 average.
“She always gave her all,” Darrell Ulferts, Pater’s high school coach, said. “She loves the game and plays it with all heart.”
As a part of two state championship teams for Southwest Christian High School, Pater demonstrated a dedication to the game that many noticed.
“The most impressive thing about Melissa was her intensity she played with and her dedication to the game,” Ulferts said.
Her dedication placed a spotlight on her that was not there in the past.
“To have the success that our team had this year, I think you really have to have a go to person, a leader. Not just someone who can make big shots but someone who can make big plays, too, a big rebound for instance, play defense against another teams best player. You have to have that type of performer. And I don’t think that Melissa was really ready for that role and responsibility until this past year,” Johnston said.
As a leader, Pater put team success before her own.
“I think part of the Melissa’s success this year comes from the team she played on. She wouldn’t have been the all-time leading scorer at SDSU or gotten some of the awards unless she had great players around her. And that’s a big part of Melissa’s success is the people around her,” Johnston said.
“I wanted to do whatever would help my team win. If that was me scoring, if that was me rebounding if that was me passing to the open person or if that was me encouraging someone that’s what I wanted to do,” she says about her career at SDSU.
“The fact is, Melissa is a great player that brought the best out of her fellow teammates and she still set records,” Ulferts said.
Pater set the career scoring record at SDSU, Mar. 17 in the Division II Regional Championship against USD. She entered the game needing 11 points; she scored 12 in the first half.
Her career numbers for SDSU are 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. She holds the records for most games played and career field goal percentage. Oh, and she is a national champion.
But she definitely didn’t get to that level overnight.
“In Melissa’s four years of being at SDSU, there was nobody else on the team that was probably challenged as much as she was or critiqued as much or pushed as much or even yelled at as much. She just had huge desire to be the best she could. She would openly talk about it in meetings I would have with her that she wanted to be yelled at when she needed to be, and she wanted to be pushed and she wanted to be the best she can be,” Johnston said.
But ask her and she’ll tell you that the numbers will not be what her legacy will be.
“I want to be remembered as a person who worked hard and gave their all to win and to make us a successful team,” she says.
“I think she’ll be remembered more for her work ethic and her personality. I think that’s the thing that people attach themselves to with athletes, not just Melissa,” Johnston said. “I think she’ll be remembered more for the high energy. Sprinting up and down the floor, diving for loose balls, I think she’ll be remembered more for those things than even she will be for the leading scorer.”
Either way she will have a smile on her face.
“There’s certain moments that are more fun than other moments of course. But I think the low moments in a basketball make the high moments even more fun and more enjoyable.”
Pater will remember those high moments as all of SDSU will.
But SDSU will remember them a little differently than she will. Its memory will have her font and center.
She’ll be smiling.
“She’s one of kind, what more can I say?” Ulferts said.
That’s a good way to put it.