Opportunity Knocks for Katie Hempen
Arizona State University senior-to-be Katie Hempen traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in May to take part in the USA Basketball National Team Trials. As one of 85 athletes trying out for the 24 available roster spots -- 12 on the USA World University Games and 12 on the USA Pan American Games teams -- the 5-foot-9 guard from Highland, Illinois, played well, just not quite well enough for her name to be called as a team member on May 17.
She was not deterred, however, and used it as a learning experience.
“It was definitely a bummer,” said Hempen. “I was talking to the coaches afterwards, and they gave me some great advice. So, it was a blessing in disguise, because I went back and worked out harder than I have done before. It was a good thing, actually.”
Hempen spent much of the next month improving on various aspects of her skill-set. She knew she needed to work on her “defensive game and maturing more in a good way. Stuff I pretty much I already knew.”
An unfortunately-timed illness for Duke University’s Rebecca Greenwell, who was named to the USA squad on May 17, turned into an opportunity for Hempen, who on June 20 almost ignored a phone call from USA Basketball women’s national team director Carol Callan. However, Hempen answered the call and suddenly her summer schedule looked drastically different.
“She called me at like 10 in the morning, and I almost didn’t pick it up,” recalled Hempen. “It was a random number from Colorado, and I was like, ‘Well, maybe it’s the USA team.’ So, I picked up, and it was Carol. She asked me if I wanted to come, and I was like, ‘Is that even a question?’ It was one of the greatest feelings in the world. To get that call and to be able to represent the USA, playing with these girls, a lot of the Pac-12 girls are here. It’s a good experience. I’ve already learned so much being here. It’s awesome.
“There was definitely no hesitation,” she added. “It put me in shock, like, ‘Is this really happening? Is this for real?’ But, hard work does pay off, and this is awesome.”
Hempen packed her bags and on June 22 joined her USA World University Games Team, which began training on June 20, in Colorado Springs for the July 5-13 World University Games women’s basketball competition in Guangju, South Korea.
Hempen earned All-Pacific-12 Conference honorable mention accolades after averaging a team-high 12.0 points and a team second-best 2.4 assists per game, while shooting 38.0 percent (76-200 3pt FGs) from 3-point as a junior in 2014-15 in leading ASU to a 29-6 record and the 2015 NCAA Sweet 16.
While she is one of the team leaders at ASU, Hempen is prepared to do whatever is asked of her to help the USA defend gold at the WUGs.
“I’ll take any role,” she said. “I’ve been in many roles throughout my career. Whether that’s sixth man, whether that’s starting, whatever. I don’t really mind. I’m here for the experience. I’m here to learn new things. Just being a part of this is everything that I could have dreamed of.”
She has been enjoying her week in Colorado, getting to know her team and working out for the USA coaches Joe McKeown (Northwestern), who is heading up the staff, and Holly Warlick (Tennessee) and Tanya Warren (Northern Iowa).
“Everybody is awesome; we’re connecting so quickly,” stated Hempen. “It’s a great feeling, and I think our team is already connecting really well, on and off the court. With another few more days, we’re going to be like one big family.”
The USA squad has one more practice on Friday before heading to South Korea, where it will train a few days in Seoul, visit with members of the U.S. military and tour the DMZ.
Once the squad arrives at the athlete village in Guangju, it will scrimmage twice before the competition begins. The first friendly will be against Australia on July 2, and on July 3 the USA will take on Canada, which features Hempen’s ASU teammate, Quinn Dornstauder.
“It’s going to be so fun,” said Hempen of going up against Dornstauder. “Me and Quinn, Quinn always puts a smile on my face every time I see her, so I’m excited to see her. I’m excited to play other people. But, knowing Quinn, knowing her tendencies, I might give a little notification to my teammates on her, say ‘Hey, let’s lock this chick down today.’”
The USA opens Group C play against Italy on July 5, before playing China on July 6 and Czech Republic on July 7. The quarterfinals will be played on July 9, the semifinals are on July 11, the bronze medal game is on July 12 and the gold medal game is set for July 13.
The USA has won gold medals in the past five WUGs in which it has competed (2001, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013) and Hempen wants to make the most of her experience, while helping the USA extend its golden streak.
“Seeing South Korea is one thing I’m looking forward to,” concluded Hempen. “That and obviously going for the gold. That’s everyone’s dream for an athlete. But, getting to know people, getting to know everybody off the court is one of my favorite things. I love making new relationships, so this is an awesome experience for me.”
One thing is for certain, after the experience Hempen has had so far with the USA team during training camp, she’ll likely never again hesitate to answer when she sees a random number from Colorado come up on her phone.