Aug 26, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterKristen Newlin -- a two-time Gatorade Wyoming basketball player of the year, a four-time state champion swimmer and state record holder, and a top-four state finisher and school record holder in the shot put -- will have her No. 43 basketball jersey retired during a ceremony Tuesday evening at Wolverine Field. The event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the public is encouraged to attend.
Newlin, a 2003 Riverton High School graduate, is the first RHS girl to have her number retired, and only the second person in the school's history to be so honored. 1995 graduate Corte McGuffey, Riverton's outstanding high school quarterback and multi-sport athlete, has also had his No. 10 football jersey retired.
But Tuesday night, the school and community will gather to recognize Newlin.
"I was so honored that 10 years removed that my time at RHS is still remembered," Newlin said. "Any time you hear of a jersey being retired, that person lives on in the school they went to, and I am so proud that my name and my jersey can always be associated with RHS."
While at RHS, Newlin set basketball records that included being the Riverton Lady Wolverine basketball team's all-time leading scorer, single season scorer, career leading rebounder and leading shot blocker.
But growing up in Riverton, it was swimming, and not basketball that Newlin competed in and excelled in her early years.
"Swimming was actually my sport," she said. "I had done it since I was 5. I didn't really start playing on a basketball team until my fifth- or sixth-grade. I always assumed in middle school that there was a possibility to play sport in college, but it seemed so far away that I didn't feel I needed to make that decision (between basketball and swimming).
"I loved swimming so much, but by my senior in high school, I kind of got burnt out. I knew that swimming in college would be even more intense than swimming in high school. I didn't think I would have that in me, and my basketball kind of soared at the same time," Newlin said.
While in late elementary school and middle school, Newlin began to play on parent-coached teams and was coached by Frank Irvine, who was involved with his daughter Laurel who was the same age as Newlin. Later, Irvine became Newlin's high school coach.
"She was so successful in everything she did," Irvine said. "She won five straight Elk's Hoop Shoot contests and the four state regional tournament twice. When she was really young, she spent an inordinate amount of time shooting free throws."
But it was the extra work in the gym that turned the tall skinny girl into one of the great forces in Wyoming high school basketball history.
"As I grew older, I became more passionate about basketball, and eventually it turned into a career for me," Newlin said. "(At RHS), I wasn't the only freshman coming up to play varsity. I knew the seniors, and they welcomed us and invited us to become a big part of the team. They were a special reason why coming into our sophomore years, we were able to become leaders even though we were underclassmen. Along with other freshmen, we were very thankful to play with them."
Newlin was quick to point out that the relationship she had with her coach was instrumental in her development not only as a basketball player but as a person.
"Mr. Irvine kind of adopted our age group at an early age," she said. "It wasn't a hard transition to become a player for him in high school. I think the greatest thing that I take away from Mr. Irvine being my coach is the respect that he demands from every player, the first player to the last player on the bench. Especially with professional basketball, I see so many all-star players that act like all-stars. Mr. Irvine kind of taught me how a player should act, and I thank him for that."
Versatile court player
Spectators were surprised to see that the Lady Wolverines would look to the 6-foot-5 Newlin to bring the basketball up the court while also depending on her dominant inside performance.
That Newlin was even able to play her senior season is a testament to her mental and physical toughness. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament the summer before her senior year at a basketball camp in Tennessee, had surgery, swam and did not miss a single basketball game after her rehabilitation.
"Kristen was tremendous," Irvine said. "Her work ethic was tremendous. She would do anything that I asked her to do, and we asked her to do a lot."
Newlin spent her high school summers going to different camps outside of Wyoming, and it was during that time that coaches would pull her and other top camp performers out to play extra scrimmage games against college competition in the evening.
"That is when I realized that I can do this and started to focus on basketball," Newlin said. "I kind of really blossomed and started to work and improve my skills."
Ultimately Newlin made four campus visits to Arizona State, Texas, Iowa State and Stanford.
"I thought choosing a college was going to be a tough decision, but it became a fairly easy one," Newlin said. "In the middle of my visit to Stanford, I knew that is where I wanted to be. I thought to myself, 'How can I go to any other school knowing that I could have come to Stanford?'"
After graduating with a degree in cultural and social anthropology, Newlin was drafted by the WNBA Houston Comets and made it through all but the final two days of her rookie camp.
"It's a huge honor to be drafted," she said. "I was happy with my experience there, and I knew I had opportunities overseas as well. I hired an agent, and he did all the work. He found me a good situation and a team that needed me. He found a perfect team for me, and the rest is history."
Newlin said she has played five years professionally and hopes to play five or six more.
She also hopes that her legacy can be remembered, especially by younger Riverton girls who are starting to become active as young athletes.
"I would say that it is important to just be involved," she said. "I didn't know in third- or fourth-grade that I would still be playing basketball now. I just took advantage of opportunities and I just had fun. Find something that is fun and continue that. It doesn't even have to be sports. There are a lot of other opportunities. You don't know what you can be good at and excel unless you put yourself out there."
Maybe the best ever
Irvine wants to cement Newlin's legacy as maybe the best female athlete ever to come from the state of Wyoming.
"You could make a case for her that she is the greatest female athlete to ever come out of the state," he said.
"That is not to take anything else away from anyone else, because we have had some great athletes.
Without question, she is the most accomplished basketball player ever when you consider what she did at Stanford and has done professionally."
Also being recognized at Tuesday's ceremony are Kristen's parents, Mick and Pat, and her brother, Brett, who competed for the United States at the recent 2012 London Olympics.
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