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Center Stage
Dana Gelin
November 27, 1995
Kara Wolters, a testament to the power of self-improvement, is the new player to watch at UConn
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November 27, 1995

Center Stage

Kara Wolters, a testament to the power of self-improvement, is the new player to watch at UConn

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To UConn coaches, her initiative gave a sign of how successful she could be. "What I didn't know before was how competitive Kara is," Auriemma says. "That has made all the difference in the world."

When Liz Wolters, Kara's mother, would take three-year-old Kara to the pediatrician, the doctor would chuckle and tell Liz her youngest daughter was going to be tall. He would never say how tall. But Kara kept sprouting until, at age 18, she was 6'7" and as tall as her father, Willi, who played center for Boston College from 1963 to '67. She's still two inches shorter than her brother, Ray, 22. Liz checks in at 6'1", and Kara's sisters, Kristen, 27, and Katie, 25, are 5'11", which puts the family average around 6'3", not counting Hoops, the family dog. "We've always figured we were normal and the rest of the world was small," Willi says.

Willi, who goes by the Americanized "Bill" in his job as an insurance lawyer in Boston, was born in West Germany and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 11. He didn't start playing basketball until he was in high school in Brooklyn, but he earned a scholarship to BC to play for Bob Cousy, the Eagles' coach at the time. Willi is still third on BC's career rebounding list, and he was the final player cut by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1968—but you would never know it from the Wolterses' living room. "I've been relegated to this little place up here," he says, pointing to two small black-and-white photos hanging above the kitchen door. Liz scored 50 points in one game at Wellesley High, more than any Massachusetts high school player ever had, and played college ball at Mount Ida near Boston, but her career isn't represented at all. A couple of family portraits are on the walls, but most of the decor is early Kara.

On top of the television is the huge silver bowl Kara won as MVP at the Big East tournament in March, after scoring a career-high 32 points in the title game. Next to the bowl is a framed photo of Kara towering over Bill Clinton, taken during the Huskies' visit to the White House after they won the national title with a 70-64 defeat of Tennessee. Leaning against one wall is the folding chair that was Kara's seat on the Final Four bench. Kara's high school graduation picture hangs over the television; instead of the usual cap and gown, she posed in shorts, with a basketball.

Willi encouraged all his children to take up basketball, but he could tell early on that his youngest, more than the others, would latch on to it the way he had. When Kara was a sixth-grader and a foot taller than the rest of the kids in her class, she would constantly drag her father out to shoot baskets. "I think it took her away from the pain she sometimes felt sticking out," Willi says. "It reminds me of myself when I was young."

"Me, too," says Liz. "I was the tallest girl in school, and basketball was an outlet. On the court you didn't have to worry about having dates."

Kristen also played college basketball, at Rhode Island, and Ray did too, first at Assumption College, then at Eastern Connecticut. But Katie, the middle daughter, has had to enjoy the game through her siblings. When Katie was six, doctors found a tumor in her brain. The growth was benign but so large and so tangled in her brainstem that complete removal was impossible. As a result of the surgery and subsequent radiation treatment, Katie has lost her short-term memory and some of her sense of balance, so she lives at home. She sometimes has seizures that prevent her from driving. But along with the rest of the family, Katie won't miss any of Kara's home games, and she has written poems for the Huskies. "She's my biggest fan," Kara says.

Kara has lots of fans these days. She and her family had dinner with New York Yankee star Don Mattingly, a friend of her Aunt Pat's, after a game at Fenway Park this summer. Kara asked Don for his autograph, and he replied, "Sure, can I have yours?"

While teammates like 5'5" Jennifer Rizzotti can put on sunglasses and blend in with a crowd, there's no hiding for Wolters. When she was spotted in a drugstore the night before the East Regional final against Virginia last March in Storrs, fans flocked to her. Tonight's blue-light special, Kara Wolters in aisle 9! She signed autographs for 30 minutes. She doesn't mind the fuss or even the gawking she's subjected to everywhere she goes. "If you can't roll with it," she says, "you're going to be miserable, like, Oh, my god, they're looking at me!"

Wolters is self-deprecating and doesn't mind being the butt of a joke. "I can't think of anybody I've enjoyed having around more in all the years I've been coaching," says Auriemma. "I bet you she has more friends on this campus than any other player, and it's not because she's Kara Wolters, the big-time basketball player, but because she's a lot of fun."

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