MILL CREEK — Kristi Kingma just couldn’t stay away from the game she loves.
After the former University of Washington and Jackson High School basketball standout was told by doctors she could no longer play competitive basketball, she was forced to decide what she was going to do for a post-college career.
It’s no surprise Kingma found a way to make it about basketball.
She’s started a business aimed at helping young girls build up both their on-court and life skills.
“She knows what it takes to play at the highest level and to have a high level of success,” University of Washington assistant women’s basketball coach Kevin Morrison said. “She knows the determination and the sacrifices. That coupled with Kristi’s demeanor and her personality … I think that she will do a great job.”
Kingma’s first camp began Monday and runs through Wednesday at her alma mater, Jackson High School.
It’s not exactly where Kingma thought she would be at this time a year ago.
“I think when you are a senior, you kind of question what you are going to do next so, for me, it was just ‘I will continue to play basketball,’” Kingma said. “Whether it’s the WNBA or overseas, that’s what my goal was.”
But it wasn’t to be.
Kingma was forced to redshirt during the 2011-12 season after tearing an ACL in a preseason game in Norway. She returned for her senior year in 2012-13, averaging 13.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and making the All-Pac-12 team. She scored a career-high 35 points in a Feb. 13 game against Oregon, setting a Pac-12 record with 11 3-pointers, one shy of the NCAA record.
But her left knee started to bother her early on and as the season progressed, she became more limited in practice. The day after the season ended, Kingma underwent surgery on her knee. “I went into the surgery thinking that they were going to scope it and then I was going to be fine in two weeks,” she said.
The news she received after waking up was far different.
The doctors informed her that her meniscus was shredded and she had cartilage damage. They removed the meniscus and advised her to quit playing basketball.
“You can’t really play on dead cartilage and no meniscus,” she said.
The news forced Kingma to abruptly rethink her career plans.
“I kind of just spent some time thinking about what I really wanted to do and it kind of came down to the heart of the matter was I wanted to figure out what my passions are and go after that,” she said. “My passions are still basketball — even though I can’t play — and just being able to be a strong mentor for young girls.”
Morrison said he was pleased, but not surprised, with the path Kingma chose.
“When she realized that her knees weren’t going to allow her to continue playing to the level she wanted to, she could have easily turned around and utilized that degree to do something for herself,” Morrison said. “But instead she decided that she wanted to stay involved in basketball and be able to give back to younger kids that are still trying to get to where she has been to. That is a great quality and is something that when she told me that is what she was going to do, it was no surprise to me at all.”
Kingma knows how influential a college basketball player can be.
“I went to Husky Hoop Camp every year (as a youngster) and I just idolized those girls so much,” Kingma said.
One of her coaches was Husky guard Megan Franza, who Kingma admired so much she dressed up as Franza for Halloween.
“I just remember thinking that I would give anything to be her,” Kingma said. “She encouraged me and really allowed me to have a dream to be like her. I still look back at that memory and think that’s really what propelled me to want to be a Husky so bad. I kind of hope to be that for that age group.”
Kingma is welcoming players ages 9-17 to her camp.
Among those in attendance is 10-year-old Haley Huard, daughter of former UW women’s basketball player Molly (Hills) Huard and former UW quarterback Brock Huard. The Huards have gotten to know Kingma on a personal level after following her career as a Husky.
“Kristi is an amazing young lady and she is a great role model,” Molly Huard said. “I think, for my girls, it’s important to have them be around girls that they can look up to in sports and just in life in general. I think she is going to focus a lot on character and life skills, along with basketball, so I’m excited for that.”
It is the personal side of the camp that most excited Molly Huard about Kingma’s camp.
“I think what is going to be unique about my camps is besides the basketball side of it and really teaching drills and things like that is I have journals for each of the girls,” Kingma said. “I really want it to be something that’s encouraging with the girls. I spend a lot of time texting them, getting to know them, e-mailing them, spending time with them one-on-one and journaling with them. Showing up and doing the camp is the easy part. It’s the getting people to come to camp and getting to know them and create relationships with them, that’s what’s taking up a lot of my time.”
For now, Kingma’s primary focus is on growing and expanding her business. She hasn’t ruled out getting another job in the future, but for now, she wants to see how far this new venture takes her.
“I’ve been lucky to have people and resources help me get the business started,” Kingma said. “It’s not easy and I don’t expect to make millions of dollars overnight and that’s not the goal either. I really want to be cautious about the process and really take my time and learn the ropes and hopefully make it into something that is worthwhile for me and the younger girls.”
Aaron Lommers covers sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.