By Rick Assad
In order to reach the top in really any endeavor, one needs to possess several qualities and two of them are being laser focused and determined.
Karen Casillas, a senior on the Burbank High girls’ basketball team, has been faithful to those traits.
“Honestly, I think my career has just started and so far, I would say that it’s been good,” said the 5-foot-10, small/power forward, who was selected All-CIF Southern Section first team after tossing in 17 points with 14 rebounds and seven assists per game as a junior. “I’ve had ups and downs throughout my years of playing; however, if it wasn’t for the support of my friends, family, and coaches, I don’t think I would be in the position I am today.”
Casillas is a four-year varsity starter and likes being the lead dog.
“I would say that my role on the team is being the go-to person,” she said. “That being someone that is the most reliable when it comes to tough situations and crunch time.”
Even if Casillas has an off night, which is rare, she’s still leading the team, but the role has taken time to develop.
“In the past years, I would shut down if we were ever in a tough situation or losing; however, this year, I want to be there for my team, like my teammates did for me last year,” she noted. “In games and practice, I try my best to keep the energy flowing on the court and while I’m on the bench. That being cheering for my teammates, high-fiving them, or encouraging them.”
The Bulldogs, who are off to a 7-4 start and 1-1 in the Pacific League after posting a 14-8 record and 5-3 in the league a season ago, has Casillas in the middle of the action.
“After getting to the quarterfinals last year, my expectation for this year is to get further and win it all,” she said. “As for myself, I want to push myself to be the best player I know I can be and work hard to obtain even greater achievements than I did last year.”
Kris Jabourian is Burbank’s coach and remembers the first time he saw Casillas.
“When I was coaching at Crescenta Valley during Karen’s freshman year, I watched her warmup and immediately approached Burbank’s Athletic Director at the time and now an assistant on my coaching staff, Bruce Breeden, and directly told him whoever that is, she’s a stud,” he said.
Last year’s impressive Division III playoff run included a 39-25 win over Foothill Tech in the opening round and a 48-37 decision against Rowland in the second round before losing 47-31 to Shadow Hills in the quarters.
Casillas doesn’t want to get over confident.
“I would say that my best assets include being a team player, not being selfish, being humble, and being very competitive,” she said.
Jabourian, who played basketball for the Falcons from 2009 through 2012, has seen Casillas develop into an all-around player.
In a 60-23 win over St. Pius, Casillas dropped in 31 points with 15 rebounds in just three quarters and in a 50-40 triumph over Maranatha, Casillas finished with 18 points.
“Coming off a great season last year she has shown to be a leader both on the court and off the court,” he said. “Last year we pushed Karen both on and off the court. She understands that the books come first. We are all looking forward to watching what this young lady can do this season. We have a couple Burbank records that she can definitely surpass. But her main goal is to become a champion. She’s hungry and ready for her next step in this basketball journey.”
Even before the tip-off, Casillas is mentally and physically ready to perform at a high level.
“Before a game, I try to hype myself and my teammates up either during shoot around or while we are stretching,” she pointed out.
For Casillas, the nonleague games are a prelude to the league portion of the schedule.
“While getting ready for the season, I try to watch what I eat and push myself to my limits at practice and at any pre-season games,” she said.
And then there is playing rival Burroughs, which adds a greater dimension to the schedule.
“The main difference between the games against Burroughs and other schools is the crowd,” she said. “The crowds at any rivalry game can be intense, especially the Burbank versus Burroughs games. The bleachers are normally packed from top to bottom and all you can hear is the crowd.”
Casillas then focuses on the task at hand, which is to play with purpose and intensity.
“However, I go into these games saying that there is no need to feel an extra sense of pressure and to play my game,” she said.
Though basketball isn’t a contact sport, there are moments when it can get nasty under the boards, which Casillas actually likes.
“I would say that the physical aspect of basketball is what I most enjoy,” she said.
Because no one makes every shot from the field or the free-throw line, it’s important that little mistakes don’t get in the way of the final destination.
“I would say that the best advice I’ve received was from Coach Kris. He once said, “it doesn’t matter if you fail or mess up 100 times, all that matters is you get up on the 101st try.” and that has and will continue to stick with me for the rest of my life,” she said.
It’s all about focus and determination.