There are advantages to being 6'7". After Connecticut won the
East Regional final last March on the way to winning the NCAA
women's championship in April, Kara Wolters didn't have to climb
the ladder that her teammates used to cut strands from the net.
She could reach the net standing on her tiptoes. And when UConn
played the U.S. national team in Storrs on Nov. 5, Wolters
barely had to jump to make the most memorable play of the day.
Early in the second half, national team forward Rebecca Lobo--who
before the game had joined her former Husky teammates in
receiving their championship rings--took a shot from the left
wing. In one deft motion Wolters cleanly blocked it, stole the
ball and reminded Lobo what it's like to shoot against someone
"Thanks for the homecoming present," Lobo said soon after as she
and Wolters lined up to battle for the rebound on a free throw.
"Hey, it's the only good thing I've done all day," Wolters
replied. "Don't take that away from me."
"Yeah," Lobo said, "but did you have to do it against me?"
Wolters had blocked the 6'4" Lobo before, only not in a game
and not, as Lobo glumly pointed out, in front of a national
television audience. The two first faced off in an AAU scrimmage
when Lobo was a junior in high school and Wolters was a
ninth-grader. (They played in the same Massachusetts program but
on different teams.) Says Lobo, "I just remember she was so big
and hard to guard." Four years later, that was a recurring theme
as Wolters, then a freshman at UConn, battled the junior Lobo in
practice and backed her up in games. Last season, with both Lobo
and Wolters starting, UConn went 35-0 and beat opponents by an
NCAA-record 33.2 points a game. "What made Rebecca into a
two-time All-America was having Kara guarding her for two
years," says Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "What made Kara
able to run the floor was the fact that she had to chase Rebecca
up and down the court." Says Chris Dailey, UConn's associate
head coach, "I don't think either one would be where she is now
without the other."
Besides her fervent belief that Elvis is alive, Wolters is
perhaps best known among her friends for her love of health and
beauty products. "She's always telling us, 'Makeup is your
friend! You don't have to be afraid of hair spray!'" Lobo says.
Thus it couldn't be more appropriate that Wolters, now a junior,
has undergone one of the most dramatic makeovers in women's
The "after" picture shows one of the best players in college
today. A third-team All-America last season, Wolters was the top
vote-getter in preseason balloting to determine candidates for
the Naismith Award, given to the college player of the year.
Deemed the leading candidate to become the one collegian invited
to play on the U.S. women's Olympic team next summer, Wolters is
such a model of low-post fundamentals that Vanderbilt coach Jim
Foster has his 6'7" center, Angela Gorsica, watch highlight
films of Wolters. "Her footwork, her ability to move without the
ball are just head and shoulders over anyone I've coached,"
To anyone who saw the "before" picture, the transformation is
unbelievable. "Coming out of high school she had people telling
her she didn't have the skills to play on the next level," says
Stanford point guard Jamila Wideman, who played AAU basketball
with Wolters from the time they were 13. "That's a lot of
criticism to hear at that age."
What college coaches noticed most about Wolters during her years
at Holliston (Mass.) High, a half hour from Boston, was not her
height but her weight. Wolters would rather see her home phone
number in print than have the reading from her scale known, but
suffice it to say the needle used to sit closer to 300 pounds
than 200. "When I first saw Kara, as a junior in high school, my
reaction was not unlike everyone else's," Auriemma says. "I
thought she was too big, too heavy, too slow. But I also saw the
great hands and the great footwork, I watched her go to the foul
line, and I saw the stroke she has and the touch around the
basket. I closed my eyes and said, O.K., what if she loses the
weight? What if we get her into great shape?"
Wolters showed up at UConn before her freshman season having
done most of the work herself. During her senior year in high
school, around the same time she decided she wanted to play for
UConn, Wolters changed her eating habits, making chicken and
salad the staples of her diet. She worked out religiously on an
exercise bike and played lots of basketball. Eventually she lost
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
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
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
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
"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 impos sible.
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."
Whenever possible, Wolters actually invites people to stare at
her. She loves public speaking and hopes to be a sportscaster
someday. If she could be someone else for a day, she would be
Ricki Lake. She talks to youth groups as often as she can find
the time. "I think Kara has a nice message," her mother says.
"She's been through the adversity and name-calling that kids
have to deal with."
Says Wolters, "It's good for them to have someone to look up to."
She qualifies. Yet another advantage of being 6'7".
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN The book on Wolters is that she works hard, but she's also a lot of fun to have around.[Kara Wolters and others in dorm room]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Wolters once backed up Lobo, but she blocked her when they met as foes. [Kara Wolters blocking shot by Rebecca Lobo]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Now that Lobo plays for the Stars and Stripes, Wolters is unquestionably the head Husky. [Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, and others]