As a young girl living in Nitra, Slovakia, Rebeka Mikulasikova first developed a passion for volleyball when she was 3 years old, playing for the next seven years.
It was later in her childhood when she realized that she may be playing the wrong sport.
“I was taller than everyone,” Mikulasikova said. “So they were like, ‘Maybe you should try another sport.’ My best friend was playing basketball and was like, ‘Let’s try it,’ and I never stopped.”
Now a 6-foot-4 junior forward on the women’s basketball team, Mikulasikova has taken that advice to heart, as she is using her professional basketball experience and work ethic to emerge as one of the Buckeyes’ top performers this season.
After making the change in sports, the young Slovak wasted no time excelling on the hardwood, earning a spot on Slovakia’s U-16 national team at just 14 years old.
Although Mikulasikova said she felt intimidated competing for her country at a young age, making her debut on the international stage was an experience she would never forget.
“I was scared a little bit,” Mikulasikova said. “I remember my first game against France, I hit my first 3 ever, so I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ It was exciting to play against all these countries. It was a great experience.”
Spending three years with the U-16 team, Mikulasikova would then receive an invitation to play for the senior national team at the FIBA Eurobasket Championship at age 17 — making her the youngest player in the entire tournament.
Mikulasikova said the year she spent on the senior national team was the highlight of her young basketball career, as she grew both as a player and person by learning from her experienced professional teammates.
“I took advice from them; they were just professionals,” Mikulasikova said. “Basketball for them was like a job. I took a lot from them and was watching them and tried to be like them.”
With five years of professional and international play behind her, Mikulasikova brought her talent and experience to the U.S. in 2019. She said her first year in Columbus was a difficult adjustment to make, as she was thrown into a culture and lifestyle in America that was unfamiliar to her.
“My first year, I was a little overwhelmed because it was a new culture and new country,” Mikulasikova said. “I had never been to the States, so it was a shock and I was just trying to adapt to everything.”
While she was adjusting to life in America off the court, Mikulasikova made a seamless transition for the Buckeyes on the hardwood, immediately making an impact with the team with 7.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. The forward also performed on the perimeter in her freshman campaign, shooting a team-high 50.3 percent from the field, 46.3 percent from three, and 82.2 percent from the free-throw line.
After a high-ankle sprain sidelined her for the entire Big Ten Tournament, Mikulasikova’s freshman campaign took a turn for the worst as COVID-19 surged in March 2020.
With the pandemic forcing all collegiate athletics to stop, the then-freshman forward said she struggled to find a place to live after the season was canceled March 17, 2020, as she was neither able to return to Slovakia due to the closing of the borders, nor to live in the dorms due to the university’s closing.
“I was in a really bad situation,” Mikulasikova said. “I contacted my family in the States that I had never seen before, and I went there for four months.”
After staying with her distant family members in the U.S., Mikulasikova returned home in July 2020 to stay with her immediate family for three weeks.
Mikulasikova said going back to Slovakia after extended time away allowed her to reconnect with her support system and recharge during the offseason, something that was needed after a turbulent spring.
“It was amazing,” Mikulasikova said. “I have a really big support system at home, so being at home really recharged my energy. It was just the best weeks.”
Although the then-sophomore forward was rejuvenated coming into the 2020-21 season, Mikulasikova saw a decrease in her production where she averaged just four points and 2.5 rebounds per game on 40 percent shooting.
Mikulasikova said last season — which featured seven postponements and cancellations due to the pandemic — was the hardest of her career, as the COVID-19 precautions prevented her from getting into a rhythm and finding consistency with her play.
“That was the hardest year because there were a lot of ups and downs,” Mikulasikova said. “It was a COVID-19 year, so it was hard for everyone.”
Now, with two COVID-19-influenced seasons behind her, Mikulasikova has emerged as one of the top producers for the Buckeyes so far this season.
Assuming a spot in head coach Kevin McGuff’s starting lineup for the first time in her career, Mikulasikova has shined on both ends of the court, ranking third on the team with 11.5 points and four rebounds through three games this season.
McGuff said his starting forward, who is coming off a career-high 19-point performance against Bowling Green Wednesday, has produced on both ends of the floor this season due to the work she has put in during the offseason to improve her conditioning.
“Certainly that was a big part of her offseason,” McGuff said. “She really embraced it and worked hard with it. It allows her to play more minutes and play harder and do the things that we are asking of her. She can now just do it for longer stretches.”
As Mikulasikova’s improved conditioning has helped her stay on the court this season, senior guard Taylor Mikesell said her presence in the paint has helped the team space the floor and find open shooters on the offensive end.
“[Mikulasikova] attracts a lot of attention,” Mikesell said. “She’s big and she’s been finishing really well. She’s been playing really well these past three games, which opens up the outside for everybody else.”
As the 2021-22 season moves toward conference play, Mikulasikova said she will continue to lean on the experiences and advice she has gained from international play, all of which have helped her become a better leader and teammate.
“What I learned from my country and from the national team is to be vocal and communicate on the court,” Mikulasikova said. “Just always put emphasis on teamwork. It’s never about one player, it’s always about the five players on the court.”