North/South Xtra: Clairton graduate Gissendanner is new La Roche coach
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The old adage "Love at first sight" is true for some ... at least it was for Kamela Gissendanner.
At the tender age of 8, the object of her affection was a basketball. Even growing into her teen years, she admits, "everything revolved around basketball."
Now as an adult, not much has changed. Gissendanner is still bonkers about the hoops sport. That helped her get hired as the new women's coach at La Roche College. Well, that and an extremely impressive resume.
Though she is only 27, she had gained a great deal of experience in the sport as both a player and coach before she was hired by La Roche. Most recently, she had been working as an assistant coach at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., for the past two years.
A chance conversation between Gissendanner and Eddie Benton, the former La Roche women's coach, and now an assistant at St. Francis, put the ball in play for a young woman who has that strong desire to become a head basketball coach at the college level.
Her experience and her interest in the job certainly impressed Jim Tinkey, the La Roche athletic director.
"We are very fortunate to have someone with Kam's experience on board and she'll be an outstanding addition to our staff," Tinkey said. "She has plenty to offer to the ladies in our basketball program and the La Roche community."
Gissendanner is obviously excited about her new job.
"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be the next head women's basketball coach at LaRoche College," she said. "Coach Benton has done a great job laying the foundation for the program and we have a great core group of girls who are ready to be successful in the classroom as well as on the court.
"It's going to be an exciting season."
Kamela Gissendanner has already experienced her share of excitement on a basketball court. That was certainly true during her high school days when she was a standout at Clairton.
By the time she graduated from Clairton in 2003, she set the school's all time scoring mark, was selected as a USA Today High School All American and named AP Small School Player of the Year during her senior year, all while helping Clairton win two WPIAL championships.
Gissendanner's hometown, a blue-collar, no-nonsense steel mill town, took some of that and "good upbringing" first to North Carolina State where she played one season (2003-04) and then transferred to Penn State, where her skills contributed to the powerful Lions program.
She played three seasons at Penn State (from 2005 through '08) and her 1,236 points placed her at 23rd on the school's all-time scoring list.
She was named Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2006 and 2007 and Big Ten Third Team in 2008. She was named team MVP her senior season and served as a team captain for her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
After graduation from Penn State, she played professionally in Norway, competing in the Kvinnenligaen League where she was the league's leading scorer and MVP.
She spent another season playing in Slovakia's Cassovia League where she ranked fifth in scoring.
"The play in Europe is a lot more physical than here. And the good and bad differences in lifestyles made me appreciate more what we have here in the States.
Three years ago she did a stint with the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA.
"Playing in the Staples Center made for good times," Gissendanner recalled fondly.
After that, she got into coaching, which led to the La Roche job.
The next chapter in the recently successful story of women's basketball at LaRoche College begins with Kamela Gissendanner at the helm on Nov. 16 when the Redhawks play host to Thiel College as part of the La Roche College Tip-Off Classic.
First Published August 30, 2012 12:00 am