There was a time when Kendra Spresser thought her playing days were over. She was done with basketball and enrolled at Kansas State, just another student going through the daily grind of classes and homework.
Even though the Dresden native had made up her mind, she found it difficult to even watch basketball games without missing it.
Last year, the 5-foot-5 guard attended just one K-State women’s basketball game — against Baylor — and watched only a couple more on TV.
“I went to one game because it was so hard to not play and being only able to watch,” she said. “I just felt that I should be playing and knew I had the capability to play. It was hard to be on the sidelines and watch.”
So, Spresser did something about it, and now she’s a starter for the Wildcats, who host Mississippi Valley State on Friday night at 7, televised on FSN.
The junior found her way onto the basketball team last spring after she was scouted during an informal pick-up game at the recreation center on campus.
Spresser averaged 9.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists a game as freshman at Seward County Community College during the 2009-10 season.
She suffered a knee injury and a hip injury during her sophomore year, missing the entire season. For a moment, Spresser considered going to Fort Hays State, but not for basketball.
Then, two weeks before the start of the fall semester a year ago, she decided on K-State, still content to walk away from the game.
It wouldn’t last. She contacted her junior college coach last spring and said she wanted to play again. Two weeks later she had a meeting set up with K-State assistant coach Shalee Lehning.
With Lehning and fellow assistant Kelly Moylan on hand to watch, Spresser got some friends together and organized a basketball game at the rec center.
“I guess I did OK, since I’m here,” she said. “It was intimidating. I hadn’t played in over a year and then all of a sudden I was playing in front of coaches. I was pretty nervous.”
It worked out. After walking on, Spresser has started every game this season for the undefeated Wildcats (4-0), averaging 5.3 points and six rebounds a game, while turning the ball over just four times in 24 minutes per game. A scrappy player — especially at just 5-foot-5 — Spresser hauled down a game-high 12 rebounds in K-State’s 62-47 win over Tennessee State last week
“I didn’t know how my body would react after being out so long,” Spresser said. “But I think there are more facets to my game people haven’t seen yet. I’m still getting back.
“I’m a shooter and I haven’t shot a lot or shot well yet. Once I get my body back under control, with my quickness, it’ll help me in everything I do, especially on defense.”
K-State coach Deb Patterson likes what she’s seen so far.
“She’s got a little jump shot, can shoot the 3 when she’s open and she dribbles the ball and protects it,” Patterson said. “She’s tough and gritty and that’s part of what makes her good, being so small. You have to be tough to be able to survive at her size.”
Finding Spresser in the unlikeliest of places has been key for the young Wildcats who have just one returning starter in Brittany Chambers this season because of Mariah White’s suspension.
Patterson isn’t one to turn down talent, even its comes from an on-campus rec game, especially if it can ultimately help her team.
“We’ve done it before, but nobody who has started or played major minutes for us,” Patterson said. “We’ve been at the rec a lot looking for players, quite frankly. It shows you how good and special some undiscovered young people can be.
“She’s a young person who can come in and help a program in need and bring a work ethic and toughness I love. She fits in and contributes.”
But could Patterson have predicted her rare find would turn into a starter from Day 1? Probably not. What’s helped Spresser adapt, though, is that she brings in the intangibles Patterson wants all of her players to have.
“We always talk about persistence, determination and resilience and she exemplifies all of those things,” Patterson said. “Through every injury she stayed determined, stayed in shape and continued to believe that maybe there might be a chance. She was resilient with her injuries and was persistent in trying to get back into the game.
“Our staff will never shut the door on those kinds of people.”
That may be true, but Spresser’s path back to basketball still surprised Chambers.
“When I heard the story, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I had never met her, didn’t know about her at all. They told me they scouted her at the rec and I was like, ‘what?’” In my thinking, I was one of those players who was scouted at AAU tournaments since I was in the eighth grade. It was a huge, long process. And here, they just watched her at the rec and signed her up. It’s amazing.”
Spresser has been a pleasant surprise.
“We knew she would contribute because of her work ethic,” Chambers said. “She comes in everyday and works her butt off. You can tell she’s very grateful to be here and comes in so anxious to learn everyday.
“She plays like an upperclassman, even though she’s not, because all of the injuries. It’s very good for this young team to have someone like that.”