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Originally published Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Huskies' Kristi Kingma glad to be back on court for Washington

Senior guard Kristi Kingma missed all of last season after suffering a serious knee injury. She's in a shooting slump but still serves as an inspirational leader to her younger teammates.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

Arizona St. @ UW, 7 p.m.

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Kristi Kingma admitted to one breakdown last season.

It was game day for her Washington Huskies and she was dressing at her off-campus apartment. Kingma moaned in frustration, grabbing the attention of roommates in the next room.

"I don't wanna wear dress clothes!" said Kingma, who missed her entire senior season due to a knee injury.

What Kingma wanted was the experience she'll have Friday — slipping into a UW basketball uniform. Kingma and her teammates host Arizona State at 7 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Arena in the Pac-12 opener.

"I was upset because I wanted to be on the court," Kingma. "I missed it so much and there were a lot of times where I felt I wasn't wanted or I wasn't good enough or I wasn't part of the team because of the injury."

Kingma suffered the injury in the Huskies' first stop of a Scandinavian summer tour in 2011. She walked off the court knowing the injury was severe, but said she was at peace knowing she'd miss the entire 2011-12 season.

She relied heavily on her faith to stomach the diagnosis in August — four to six weeks of immobility after surgery in September 2011.

"She served as an inspiration for anybody that comes back from an injury," said UW point guard Jazmine Davis. "I've never seen anybody work that hard. She didn't seem like it was bothering her, even when she tore it. During rehab she came into the locker room just pink (faced) and sweaty and was talking about going running, again."

Kingma successfully rehabilitated her right knee but has been warned she might need postseason surgery on the left. Knowing the struggle she made to return for her final season, Kingma said she's unlikely to pursue a professional playing career.

Kingma graduated with a degree in communications in May. She's enrolled in one online class per quarter to remain eligible to play this season.

"Once you get to January you realize, this is really it," said Kingma, who keeps a regimented schedule of rising at 8 a.m. and retiring to bed around 9 p.m. "After kind of going through the motions the last four years, I kind of realized how there needs to be a sense of urgency from the beginning of Pac-12 (play). If you get down a couple of games, you really can't make it up with how deep this league is. Every game is your last game, and you have to relay that to the younger players."

Washington had a 20-win season last year, coach Kevin McGuff's first with the program. The Huskies were projected to finish seventh by media this season.

The Huskies (8-3) weathered numerous injuries to navigate the nonconference schedule. Three starters, including Kingma, lead the Pac-12 in minutes played. But for fans who remember Kingma's all-conference junior season, she appears to have lost a step since her injury.

Kingma averages 11.5 points on a career-low 29.7 percent shooting. But she's averaging a career best in rebounds (5.5), already totaled a career high in blocks (five) and has 21 steals.

"I'm in a shooting slump. I'm not scoring the way people might think I need to," Kingma said. "But that means absolutely nothing. I'm out there trying to make sure Talia (Walton) and Jaz are feeling good about themselves.

"My shot will come back. But it's really important for me as a leader to remain selfless. That's what I learned from my injury."

And Kingma is still diving for loose balls despite the bulky brace on her knee.

"Jenn hates me for that," Kingma said of UW trainer Jenn Stueckle. "She gets real angry, but that's just how I know how to play. I'll just continue to dive and hopefully my knee figures itself out."

Kingma extends her newfound leadership skills beyond the court. Referred to as "grandma" by other players, Kingma makes sure they respect each support-staff member, from trainers to bus drivers.

Kingma, a former Jackson High star, frequently leaves Starbucks gift cards or handwritten cards in players' lockers.

"I'm a hugger and she's a gift-giver," guard Mercedes Wetmore said, describing Kingma. "She gives me all of these cards, and I save them all. She bought me a cord for my MacBook to plug into my TV because she knew I wanted one. She's cute."

It's all part of the legacy Kingma hopes to leave behind. Traits she feels will be engraved in minds more than injuries or points.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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