Spartan Spotlight - Nat Carkner

LANGLEY, British Columbia - Driving in from the north east, the place sounds magical.

Less than 700 metres north of Port Coquitlam’s Mary Hill Bypass along Pitt River Road, a left turn onto the tree-lined and well-manicured Citadel Drive proves to be the gateway to a certain fantastical neighbourhood.

Venturing further south west down Citadel Drive, on the right side is Nottingham Place while a little further on the left is Castle Crescent. Continuing on, residing on the south side of the road is Castle Park – a green space that is at the same time both an environmentalist’s and a child’s delight.

The next major intersection is Palisades Crescent followed by Fortress Drive. And that’s where this story turns right. After a short jaunt on the curving Fortress, another right turn sends one towards a down-sloping Fort Fraser Rise.

Part of the way down the hill and around the bend is where the basketball magic in this seemingly enchanted community happened.

From the street, the basketball hoop stood, cemented in, on the right side of the driveway.

At the bottom of the stand, carved into the cement were the names Steph, Sam and Nat. The three Carkner sisters who would put this hoop to great use.

For the youngest of the three, Nat, this is where her love for basketball all began.

“That’s where I learned how to shoot,” Carkner says. “The first time I ever touched a basketball was on that driveway.”

And to her recollection, that first experience with a basketball in hands was even before her first day of kindergarten.

With a dad, Mike, who played basketball in his university days at Simon Fraser, and two older sisters, Steph, who played at Trinity Western from 2008 to 2013, and Sam, who competed at the high school level, it was only natural that the improvised court in the driveway became Nat’s home.

If there was one of three Carkner sisters who stood above the rest when it came to pure, unbridled passion for basketball it was Nat.

If it was sunny on Fort Fraser Rise, the 5-foot-5 Carkner was putting up shots.

“If I could anything, I would just shoot 3-pointers all day,” Nat says with smile.

Like her dad and sisters, Nat’s genes – a lack of height but a knack for ball control – had her destined for the backcourt.

But unlike Steph, who was more of a dribble-and-drive point guard at TWU, Natalie grew up in the driveway more intentionally honing her shot. As she got older, she moved her attempts further and further back from the hoop before eventually crafting her 3-point effort from the grass on the other side of the driveway.

“I always wanted to be just like Steph but I soon realized our games were completely different,” Carkner says. “I always wanted to have her vision as a point guard and be a leader like her but I knew our skill sets were different. I was a shooter and she was more of a playmaker. In the end, I wanted to take what she did well and mesh it with my game.”

Growing up, she often learned about Steph’s game the hard way.

During Steph’s first year at TWU, Nat, who was in Grade 9 at the time, vividly recalls a particular one-on-one game. On Steph’s first drive the basket, Nat found herself knocked flat on her back and looking up at the realization of how far she had to go if she wanted to play basketball in university.

It took two years, but when she was in Grade 11, Nat finally beat Steph.

“We played a lot but she’d always kill me,” Nat says. “But there was that odd time when I’d win and it was the best thing ever. I think the first time I beat her I rubbed it in her face for the next month. I was so happy.”

For Nat, all that shooting – both by herself and alongside her dad’s watchful eye – was coming to fruition.

And now, in Nat’s second year at TWU, after graduating from Riverside Secondary in 2012, her work in the driveway is starting to come to fruition on the CIS court was well.

In her first 14 games of this season, Carkner – who over the past year and a half altered her shooting technique to make it a more efficient motion – made a total of six 3-pointers. Last weekend against UBC Okanagan, she drained five in just two games on only nine attempts.

“She’s gone back to what she does well,” says TWU coach Cheryl Jean-Paul. “She shoots the ball well and she’s a quick guard. She’s adjusting to the speed of the CIS and she’s starting to take the shots we’ve wanted her to take all along.

“She has a very accurate 3-point shot and it’s something our team can definitely use. It’s just a matter of her putting herself into that position to knock down that shot.”

And to do that, it’s largely just a matter of confidence.

In the driveway, the mesh is well worn. Thanks to Nat, countless long balls have found their way through that net. Scoring on Fort Fraser Rise was easy.

Now, the quest for Nat, who is averaging 9.1 minutes per game this year, is finding that rhythm on the CIS court.

“When she plays with confidence and believes in herself, I think she can be a tough person to play against,” Jean-Paul said. “I think she’s starting to walk a little taller now and is playing with some confidence.”

Hitting 37.9 per cent of her 3-point attempts this year, she leads TWU and, if she had a few more attempts, would be ranked fifth in Canada West.

From grass on the west of the driveway on Fort Fraser Rise, up Fortress Drive, down Citadel Drive, past Castle Park and Nottingham Place and all the way to TWU, there’s plenty of evidence to prove that Carkner is just getting going.

It seems her shooting magic is on the cusp of a reveal. 

Last Updated: 2014-01-24
Author: Mark Janzen

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