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Living the dream — Marriage stretches across 2 time zones

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She was Susan King, Stanford women's basketball team point guard, torn anterior cruciate ligament, right knee. He was Curtis Borchardt, Stanford men's team center, stress fracture, right foot.

They met rehabbing in the training room.

She often had her head buried in a book. He needed a study-buddy. One thing led to another. It doesn't take a Stanford grad to do the math.

Now she's Susan King Borchardt, still a Stanford point guard, starter in fact, knee doing better, about to play fellow traditional-power Tennessee tonight for a berth in this weekend's NCAA Women's Final Four.

He's still Curtis Borchardt, but now a center on Jazz's injured list, screws holding his foot together, a complicated wrist fracture mending.

It's been a long-distance relationship ever since the Hawaii honeymoon that followed last Aug. 9's wedding in her native Minnesota. Yet somehow they make it work, she from Palo Alto, Calif., or whatever campus on which the Cardinal might be playing, he from Salt Lake, or whatever NBA city the Jazz call home-for-a-night.

"I feel," Susan says, "like I'm leading two lives.

"It's been hard."

How hard?

"If you ask anybody, when we're together, we're literally together. We're never farther than six inches apart from each other," Curtis says. "And for me to only be able to see her for one or two days a month — that's really hard. Really, really hard."

Getting married, however, may have been the easiest hurdle the two have had.

Curtis and Susan had little clue what they were getting into back in spring of 2001. Juggling a two-basketball family wasn't on the radar.

"That was the last thing on our minds," Curtis says.

Heck, they had to date first.

Six months later, they were engaged.

Then things really got crazy.

"It was a hard time when he was debating whether to stay at Stanford or put his name in the NBA draft," Susan says by phone from Norman, Okla., where on Sunday Stanford beat Vanderbilt for a berth in tonight's Midwest Region title game.

Stress fractures had severely limited his first two seasons at Stanford, so going into his junior year Curtis never really considered leaving for the NBA while Susan, whom he still was just getting to know, stayed behind.

That changed shortly after he proposed.

"As the year progressed, and I kept playing better and feeling better," Curtis says, "that's when I think the pressure started.

"As the rumors started that I might have a shot at being drafted in the lottery (top-13)," he adds, "that's when we first started to get confronted with it."

Confronted, that is, with the real possibility of being separated before even being together.

Decisions, decisions.

Curtis had to make one. Susan, too.

"It was huge. I mean, I love Stanford. I loved playing basketball there. But, at the same time, I didn't feel like that was the main determining factor," he says. "If I would have stayed, I would have stayed so I could be with Susan another year.

"In the end, the smartest decision professionally would be to . . . play (in the NBA)."

Orlando selected Borchardt No. 18 overall in the 2002 draft, then immediately traded him to Utah.

Susan's call came next.

Give up the game? "That would never have happened," she says. "I love basketball."

Transferring to the University of Utah briefly was entertained.

Ultimately, staying at Stanford made most sense — no matter how much separation anxiety the psychology major in Susan anticipated.

"I love being at Stanford," she says of a school whose coach, Tara VanDerveer, is one of basketball's best.

Yet Susan also loves a husband whose work keeps him a constant plane-ride away.

Fortunately, he is strong enough to understand her predicament.

"He's been so helpful, so supportive," she says. "He basically said, 'I want you to do what you want to do.' "

"It's important to her," he says. "She tore her ACL her first two years (in college) — and this is a girl who was first-team All-American in high school. She wanted an opportunity to play, and see what she could do. I know what that feels like."

Does he ever.

The summer before what was to have been his first NBA season, Curtis — a 7-footer — needed pin-replacement surgery in his bad foot. He would miss all of the 2002-03 season. In training camp prior to this season, the foot was fine — but he broke a finger. Out a month. Five weeks later, in just his 16th game for the Jazz, Borchardt braced a fall to the floor. The wrist snapped, leaving his hand hanging like no one's should.

"He's had a really rough year, in a lot of respects," Susan says. "That's a hard situation to be in, so I just try to be supportive and keep him motivated."

The NBA full-access cable package Curtis bought Susan no longer gets as much use as in November, but their unlimited-minutes phone plan is a steal.

"Without her," Curtis says, "I wouldn't have a whole lot to look forward to.

"As an athlete," he adds, "you define yourself by your performance. And when you're unable to perform because of an injury, there's such a sense — especially for me, personally — of worthlessness."

Borchardt spends idle time watching his wife when she's on TV, and listening to her other games on the Internet when the Jazz aren't also playing.

"To be able to follow her, and kind of have my basketball season through her, and celebrate her successes," he says, "has been something that's invaluable for me."

That, though, needn't last long — perhaps only another year, should Susan return for a final season at Stanford. Also an option: turning pro herself this summer and trying to make it in the WNBA, whose season does not conflict with the NBA's.

Either way, stretches like the one they're enduring now — four, maybe five weeks without so much as a minute together — won't go on forever.

"I'm really looking forward," Curtis says, "to a time when she and I can live together and enjoy that."

From a distance, their thoughts separated by a few hours and many miles, Susan echoes the notion.

"Living together in a normal life," she says. "I'm looking forward to that."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com