March 5, 2007
With her innate sense of the game and contagious enthusiasm, former Boilermaker Kelly Komara became one of the most competitive players in the conference. During a prolific career at Purdue from 1999-02, Komara set the Boilermaker single-season steals record in 2001-02 and is currently third on the all-time list.
"To be a great collegiate player, you have to be a great defensive player, and I think a lot of people overlook that," said Komara. "They want to talk about how many points or assists you get. That's all well and great, but if you can't play defense in Division I, you're not going to be a great player."
The Schereville, Ind. native began her four years in West Lafayette in dramatic fashion. In her first game on Nov. 15, 1998, she came off the bench in the Boilermakers' primetime matchup with defending national champion Tennessee. After 12 seconds on the court, the rookie drained a 3-pointer that helped Purdue end the Lady Vols' 46-game winning streak. That moment set the tone for the rest of the season. After being named to the All-Big Ten freshman team later that season, Komara was a part of the Big Ten's first national championship as Purdue earned the 1999 crown.
"It was very surreal," said Komara. "You just start thinking `Is this for real? Is this how my whole college career is going to be?' That whole year was incredible and to be able to win the national championship on top of that was a dream come true."
The 5'7" guard averaged 5.3 points while appearing in all 35 games her freshman year at Purdue, and then doubled her output to 10.9 points per game as a sophomore.
As a junior, Komara helped bring Purdue to within three points of another national title. She was named the Indiana Woman of the Year in 2001 after propelling the Boilers to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament, falling 68-66 to Notre Dame. She followed up the career-year with a sensational senior season, setting the single-season steals record to earn the distinction of 2002 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year - the first-ever honor for a Purdue player.
It was Komara's defensive prowess that pointed her toward a coaching career.
After being recruited by Nell Fortner, who became the U.S. Women's National Team coach, Komara played under Carolyn Peck for her freshman season and then coached by Kristy Curry. She says it was that coaching combination that turned her into one of the best defensive athletes in conference history.
"I had amazing coaches who taught me so much that I knew I wanted to give back the way that they gave back to me," said Komara. "The best way was to coach. A lot of players can play the game, but not too many can think the game. I believe I can think the game, so I'd like to take that on and become a coach."
After playing with the WNBA's Indiana Fever and the National Women's Basketball League's Grand Rapids Blizzard, the former backcourt sparkplug thought about her days coaching basketball camps at Purdue and watching her father roam the sidelines as an assistant football coach at Valparaiso University.
She knew she had found her calling, and took her strong defensive mindset and outside shooting to the Wildcats' sideline - a place she hopes to find more and more of her former Big Ten student-athlete family.
"It has been a great experience so far," she said. "I love Northwestern, I love being a coach. I think the more players that become coaches in the conference will take the Big Ten to the next level."