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Passion For Life Makes Wicks A Winner

Jan. 2, 2003

by Chris Masters

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Spend a few minutes with Notre Dame sophomore guard Kelsey Wicks and you’re likely to be swept up in the tremendous energy that surrounds her. Like a child on Christmas morning, Wicks bounds around with seemingly endless reservoirs of enthusiasm, constantly sporting a big smile and an even bigger heart. She has a passion for everything she does, whether it is basketball, academics or life.

Passionate would be a good way of describing Wicks’ play on the hardwood. Seldom does a play go by where the 6-2 native of Gillette, Wyo., is not diving on the floor, fighting for a loose ball, or sprinting down court at top speed on a fast break. She also races into the lane with reckless abandon, jousting for rebounds or trying to find an opening for a lay-up. That’s the only way she knows how to play, and it’s a style that has endeared her to legions of Irish fans.

“Winning is all about competing against yourself, beating yourself and making yourself better every day,” Wicks says. “I always want to perform my best and know that I’ve done everything I can to make our team successful.”

“She has such an infectious personality and joy for life,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw notes. “Her enthusiasm is contagious. You can’t help but be happy and upbeat when she is around.”

It was this kind of determination that helped Wicks find her way to Notre Dame. Back in 1997, she watched on television as the Irish made their first trip to the NCAA Final Four, led by All-Americans Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither. As a lanky eighth-grader at the time, Wicks knew right away that Notre Dame was the place she was destined to attend. Now all it would take was a passion to fulfill her dream.

It didn’t take long for Wicks to evolve into a star basketball player at Campbell County High School. She earned all-state honors three times and wound up as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Still, she did not initially catch the eye of the Irish coaching staff, mainly because of her isolated location in northeast Wyoming.

Refusing to go unnoticed, Wicks mailed videotapes of her games to Notre Dame. The Irish coaches quickly realized they had found a hidden gem lurking out West. By her senior season, Wicks’ dream was set to become a reality — in November 2001, she signed a national letter-of-intent to attend Notre Dame.

“No good thing comes easy,” Wicks says. “The idea of coming to Notre Dame started out as just a seed. I almost gave up on it a couple of times, figuring that I’m just a small-town girl from Wyoming and that I’d never make it. But, something kept calling me back. It’s by the grace of God that I’m here, because He instilled in me that desire to come to Notre Dame.”

From the minute she arrived on campus last year, Wicks took on the look of a child in a candy store. Not only did she want to fulfill her desire to play basketball, but she also wanted to quench her thirst for knowledge and intellectual stimulation. She dove headlong into the First Year of Studies program, earning Dean’s List honors in both of her first two semesters at the school. It wasn’t long before she enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters pre-professional program with a major in theology. She also earned a place in Notre Dame’s prestigious Academic Honors for Student-Athletes program, pairing her with theology professor (and mentor) Catherine Hilkert.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the educational environment at Notre Dame,” Wicks says. “My professors inspire me every day. I find myself waking up each morning and wanting to learn more, just for learning’s sake.”

At the same time, Wicks began her basketball career in fine fashion, appearing in 29 games and averaging 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a freshman. She showed no fear on some of the biggest stages, scoring a season-high 16 points on the road at top-ranked (and eventual national champion) Connecticut, and adding a team-high 10 points at Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

This year, Wicks has been slowed somewhat by a preseason foot injury. However, she still managed to pile up a season-high 12 points against Temple on Dec. 14, her third double-figure scoring game and first at the Joyce Center.

“Kelsey really showed signs last season of becoming an impact player,” McGraw commented. “She gives us so much energy and aggressiveness on the floor. She does all the dirty work for us, whether it be diving for loose balls, battling for rebounds or hitting the outside shot. Although she’s still coming back from her injury, when she’s healthy, she has the ability to be a difference-maker out there.”

Making a difference is something Wicks also would like to do when she graduates from Notre Dame. She hopes to follow a career path in medicine and travel to Third World countries, helping poor and indigent families.

“I just want to treasure each moment I have, and improve myself, as both a player and a person,” Wicks observes. “To paraphrase a great philosopher — ‘the truest expression of oneself leads to the greatest happiness.’ If I can follow that idea, I will be satisfied with my place in this world.”

— ND —