By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The common perception that Kristi Kingma’s shooting stroke is rusty because of inactivity is itself a bit off the mark.
About 14 months ago, Kingma tossed aside her crutches and started shooting basketballs with the aid of a ball cart — not to feed her the balls but to provide a place to sit while she shot. That was about two months after knee surgery, and Kingma just couldn’t wait to refine her stroke.
Two months later, the fifth-year senior on the University of Washington women’s basketball team was able to shoot while standing on her toes. A few weeks after that, Kingma began jump-shooting — although, as she said this week, “I don’t even know if you could call it that; you could have slid a credit card under my feet.” And by February, she was shooting without limitation.
So, if one were to look at Kingma’s 29.9-percent shooting clip this season and write it off to a year of inactivity? That might not be totally accurate.
“It wasn’t like I took that much time off,” she said,
And yet Kingma continues to struggle in finding her shooting touch after undergoing knee surgery in Sept. 2011 and missing an entire season.
In UW’s four most recent games, the former Jackson High School star has missed 81.4 percent of her shots — going 3-for-11 from the field against Georgia Tech, 2-for-12 against UC Santa Barbara, 2-for-13 against Idaho and 1-for-7 against San Diego State. She’s also making just 58.3 percent of her free throws this season, well below the career 67.8 percent clip she carried into the 2012-13 campaign.
Kingma has had, well, a very un-Kingma-like start to the season.
“She probably hasn’t made as many (shots) as she would’ve liked, because she has such high expectations for herself,” coach Kevin McGuff said last week, after Kingma averaged just 7.5 points while shooting 4-for-25 in a weekend split with UC Santa Barbara and Idaho. “But, to me, I think she’s playing really, really well. She’s adding a tremendous amount to our team — on and off the court.”
The 5-foot-11 Kingma does rank second on the team in rebounding (6.0 per game) and had a career-high 14 in Sunday’s win over Idaho. She’s also scoring 11.7 points per game (third-best on the Huskies) while trying to adjust to a rather young team that includes three starters with whom she had never played prior to this season.
But after scoring a team-best 15.6 points per game and earning all-Pacific-10 Conference honors as a junior in 2010-11, Kingma was expected to be a more dependable scoring option in this, her fifth season at UW.
Teammate Mercedes Wetmore said after Saturday’s loss to UC Santa Barbara that no one will be asking Kingma about her shooting woes once conference play begins, but her cold touch has followed the senior sharp-shooter for most of the first 10 games.
McGuff said the season away from competition is an obvious factor in the senior’s slow start as a shooter. Kingma underwent surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, thereby earning a fifth year of eligibility.
“It’s a long process,” he said. “It’s just not easy to go from not having played for so long and having an injury like that to just being where you want to be on Day 1. I think she’s played remarkably well. As much as we’ve asked of her, I think she’s done a fantastic job.”
Kingma admits that part of her shooting woes might have to do with adjusting to a new body that’s stronger after a year of rehabilitation. The added muscle has helped her be a more complete player, but it has also affected Kingma’s shooting stroke.
“Anytime you lift (weights), your shot changes a little bit because you have to adjust to the way that your body is,” she said. “To put a reason on (the shooting slump), that might be a little bit of it. My body’s stronger and built differently, so that’s been a little bit of a learning curve.”
Kingma also admits that there has been some frustration in her slow start on the offensive end. However, the year away from basketball has given her a fresh perspective that makes it easier to brush off the struggles, she added.
“When I sat out last year, I kind of looked at the reasons why I was playing, and I realized that I wasn’t necessarily playing because I loved (basketball) anymore,” she said. “I mean, I did love it, but maybe I was playing to please someone or because people expected me to be this great player.
“But when I sat out and I had a year to think about it, to think about one more year before I graduate, I just sat back and was like, I love basketball. I’ve loved it since I was 5, and there was no reason for me to be out there other than I just love it.
“I think about that almost every day I’m out there, when things are tough. You might lose a game, or I might not get to play as well as I’d like, but I’m getting to do what I love. And I am so thankful to have had that year to have had this fresh appreciation for basketball and all that it means to me.”
Despite the early shooting slump, Kingma hasn’t gotten too down on herself this season. And the Huskies (7-3) haven’t lost faith in her, either.
“I think before long here, we’ll start to see her be the really terrific player that she is,” McGuff said. “But I think she’s close, I really do.
“… Kristi needs to be a huge part of what we’re doing. She’s such a talented player. For the team that we are — we’re very perimeter-oriented — she has to be a very big part of the success.”
Kingma plans on doing just that, even if she’s not scoring like she once did.
“I’m a shooter, and I’m going to go through shooting slumps, and I would say that this is a little bit of a shooting slump,” she said. “But I don’t feel like my game’s in a slump.”