Ten years ago, a woman basketball player's career was over upon graduating from college. She could become a sports commentator, but her playing days were largely history.
Not so today. With the advent of the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association), women from throughout the world are taking it to the hoop. And getting paid for it. Such is the case with one of the first Latter-day Saints in the WNBA — Kristen Rasmussen of the Miami Sol.
A rookie, the 6-foot-4-inch forward is a member of the East Lansing University Ward, Lansing Michigan Stake, but lives in Miami during the season, which runs from May through September. She was originally drafted by the Utah Starzz, but waived and was picked up as a free agent by the Sol. The 21-year-old is just three credits shy of graduating in kinesiology from Michigan State University, where she was team captain for three of her four years playing for the Spartans.
"This is like a dream come true," she told the Church News during a telephone interview from her hotel room in Detroit, Mich. The Sol, a new WNBA team, is currently on a road trip and was preparing to play the Detroit Shock that evening.
"The women before the WNBA started prepared the way to give us the opportunity play now. I'm extremely grateful for everything they have done. It's a ton of fun."
Kristen was also excited because this leg of the road trip meant she could see her family, including parents, Gaylan and Carolyn Rasmussen, who live in nearby Lansing. Her father is a professor and extension specialist in the Department of Park, Recreation and Tourism Resources at Michigan State and is a member of the university's athletic council. Her mother has strong Spartan ties as well, earning a master's degree in secondary education. (She was an undergraduate at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.)
Athletics seem to run in this family. Kristen's brother, David, played basketball at Wake Forest, and her sister Linnette played at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich. She also has two other sisters, Jeanene Nelson and Cheryl Kaski.
Speaking of her family's support, Kristen said: "I give them a ton of credit for getting me to where I want to be. It's great."
Her coaches through the years must have agreed. After graduating from Okemos High School in Lansing in 1996, she joined the Spartans, where she now holds the school's career blocks record (194), was named the All-Big 10 First Team in 2000, and led the Big 10 in rebounding (9.8) and double-doubles (16) the same year. Her coach nominated her for the 1999 NCAA Outstanding Sportsperson of the Year Award, which honors a player for leadership and good court behavior.
And she's making her mark with the Sol. On July 10, she came off the bench to score five points and pull down five rebounds in a win over Seattle, and on June 24, she pulled down a game-high eight rebounds in addition to scoring seven points in a loss to Phoenix.
But along with her impressive rookie showing, she has not forgotten who she is. "People tend to know that I'm a Latter-day Saint because I don't use the vulgar language. I don't go out and party. They wonder about my morals and what makes me different," she related. "I compare it to serving a little mission. It's a way people can talk to me about the Church, and I can tell them about what I believe in. Whenever others use vulgar language [around me], they apologize."
Recently, a teammate asked Kristen why she did not use profanity and never went to bars. "I told her about my religion. She proceeded to tell me about other Mormons she knew and how cool that was. It was cool to tell her the reasons we don't do these things. It's interesting for them because it's a different perspective."
Kristen, who has been a Relief Society teacher, was Laurel class president and who received her Young Womanhood Recognition in 1996, plans to play in the off-season for a league in Switzerland. "I'm also going to finish my [university] credits so I'll graduate in December," she added.
Seems Kristen is always reaching above the rim.