Vanderbilt junior center Mariella Fasoula grew up in Athens as Greek basketball royalty.
“Fas” is one of Europe’s best young post players, and on the other side of the globe, she was named to the Lisa Leslie Award Watch list for the best center in NCAA.
Her father is the legendary Panagiotis Fasoulas, who was one of the best centers in European basketball history. “The Spider” was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2016 after a storied career for the Greek national team and Greek league squads. He spent one year at North Carolina State and was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, but he returned to Greece for his professional career. The seven-footer was one of the most prolific scorers in Greece’s history.
Even with a Hall of Famer for a father, Fas never felt pressured to continue her father’s legacy.
She said, “He never pressured me to play basketball, which was really cool, I really appreciate that. He let me experience everything.”
Fasoula played volleyball and tennis and swam. She even tried out ballet.
“But I asked to join basketball just because I saw my brother and my dad playing out in the driveway one day,” said Fasoula.
In the United States, the typical path to college stardom starts with joining an AAU program in elementary school. However, Greece doesn’t have the same level of basketball infrastructure.
Clubs teams play other clubs in the same division, which is based on skill level. Fasoula joined a Division One team in 2009 and developed her game against top-flight competition. She helped lead Proteas Voulas to three Greek Championships and earned three Greek League MVP awards.
She also played on the national team while still in high school. She starred at the U18 European Championships at age 16.
Two years later, she headed to Boston College to start her college career. In her freshman season, she started 26 games, averaging 13.5 points and 5.4 rebounds even as she adjusted to a different style of play in the United States. She earned a spot on the ACC All-Freshman team.
She said, “My freshman year, there were a lot of frustrating moments, and I still get frustrated in myself. It’s just a lot of information to switch up.”
The European style of basketball values basketball intelligence over the physicality that’s favored across the pond. Fasoula described the European strategy as outsmarting the opponent as opposed to the American style that emphasizes outrunning opponents.
“European style is much more fundamental,” said head coach Stephanie White. “They move the ball really well. There’s a lot of movement in it, but it’s not necessarily fast-paced. It’s much more physical here.”
White saw her play for the first time when Boston College played Purdue during Fasoula’s freshmen year. At the time, White was calling games for the Big Ten Network. Fasoula left quite an impression after leading Boston College to a 58-56 victory. She was 11-for-15 from the field and scored the first ten points of the fourth quarter for the Eagles. Purdue’s centers had no match for Fasoula.
One of those centers who couldn’t stop Fasoula was Bree Horrocks, now a teammate of Fasoula’s at Vanderbilt.
The following season at Boston College, she continued to adjust to the American system and blossomed. She averaged 16 points per game to lead Boston College in scoring. She started all 29 games and established herself as one of the most formidable posts in the ACC.
She decided to transfer after the 2016-2017 season.
White was in need of a post player and heard that Fasoula was interested in transferring to Vanderbilt.
Once the coaching staff received her official release, White jumped at the opportunity to bring Fasoula to Nashville. White remembered her performance against Purdue and knew Fasoula would be a perfect fit on the squad.
Fasoula said, “I came and already felt like I was a part of the team. I loved the coaches’ vision. I loved how the team greeted me. I just liked the atmosphere when I was here on my visit.”
Fas committed to Vanderbilt and arrived on campus in the fall of 2017. Before arriving to West End, she spent her summer playing for Greece in the U20 European Championships and at the Eurobasket tournament with the senior national team.
She had to sit out the 2017-2018 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Fas was not used to sitting on the bench and admitted that not being able to play with teammates in games was tough. She and the coaching staff took the opportunity to refine her skills. Watching from the bench, Fas could dissect plays and understand the little details of spacing that she would not otherwise notice if she was playing. She also took on extra lifts in the weight room and extra conditioning drills.
White said, “She’s in better shape than she was. She’s got better balance that she had.”
Adjusting to a new school was not always easy, especially with her family so far away, but her teammates became a crucial support system for Fas.
“I love my teammates and I love the coaches, and I like the relationships that we have here,” said Fasoula. “It takes my mind off that my home is so far away.”
She only goes back to Greece during the month of May, when the team gets a few weeks off before coming back for summer practices. She returns to Greece for her national team duties, but often those tournaments take place in other countries, so she is not in Greece for extended periods of time.
Fas said, “When you’re so far away from your family, you’ve just got to find a second family to depend on and count on because you’re going to have rough days and you can’t go back home. With the time difference, I can’t call my mom or my dad after 2 PM or 3 PM because it’s 12 AM there.”
She was able to spend more time at home this summer as she practiced with the senior national team for the FIBA World Cup. Fas played with and against WNBA and Euroleague players. In four games at the Olympic-qualifying event, she averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Fasoula said, “It really helped me see a different part of the ballgame, playing with such amazing players. It was a really great opportunity for me”
She returned to campus in September and got right to work preparing for the season.
White said, “I think she came back as a more aggressive offensive player.”
Fasoula has averaged 13.7 and 8.4 rebounds through November 27th.
“She’s got great size great touch around the rim,” said White. “I’ve told Fas since Day 1 that I think she’s a pro. I think her ceiling is really unlimited.”
Her presence on the court is welcomed for a Commodores squad that lacks depth and size. On and off the court, her carefree spirit drives the team’s chemistry.
White said, “She doesn’t take things or herself too seriously. She’s funny. She’s a fun personality to be around. She’s a larger-than-life personality.”
Fasoula has two years of eligibility and has made it a goal to take Vanderbilt to the NCAA tournament in the next two years. Fasoula and her teammates will continue on their journey to reach that goal Thursday night at Ball State.