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Starbird's game impresses many people, but not herself

Published Oct. 1, 2005

In her dreams, Kate Starbird is a kamikaze water skier, a lanky blur on boards skimming along some crystalline California coastline.

In real life, she proudly wears her "I'm a Nerd" T-shirt in public, hunkers down for advanced computer science classes at Stanford and tries to avoid talking about herself. Don't ascribe that to her shyness, though. It's just that Kate Starbird doesn't find Kate Starbird particularly interesting.

Never mind that she once was a peripatetic Army brat who learned to play basketball while competing against hardened soldiers years older. Or that she fell asleep in the middle of a game while on her recruiting visit. Or that she showed up for her first semester of college on crutches. Or that she has a surname that, by fortuitous coincidence, aptly links her status with her style. Or that her autograph has two drawings but no letters.

And never mind, either, that the woman with the two kneepads, the flying ponytail and an acknowledged ugly shot was voted national player of the year. It turns out that no one is less impressed with Starbird than Starbird, who calls herself "overrated."

"I think I'm surprised with some of the things I've accomplished," said Starbird, whose team plays Old Dominion in the Final Four on Friday. "I think I understand it in a way maybe other people don't. I know I'm at a great program with a great team. We all have different roles, and for some reason I got the role that gets all the attention. I feel all the people I'm on the court with are All-Americans. They're all amazing."

But none more so than Starbird. A two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year and a first-team All-America selection for the second straight year, Starbird led the conference in scoring with an average of 24.8 points. She averages 20.8 overall on 51.2 percent shooting.

She also averages 3.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals. At 6 feet 2, she is tall for a guard, and her speed allows her to blow past slower defenders. And if opponents defend her with someone short and quick, Starbird shoots over her. Her 42.1 percent three-point shooting is one of the best in the nation.

Starbird, one of four Stanford seniors, also was the model of consistency and big-game effort for the No. 3 Cardinal (34-1). Wracked by injuries, Stanford still stretched its Pac-10 winning streak to 45 games while earning the No. 1 seed in the West Regional.

Along the way, Starbird has enlisted legions of admirers.

"She shoots the ball extremely well," Washington State coach Harold Rhodes said. "She always has been very quick off the dribble, she has an explosive first step, and she's able to finish.

"I remember a guy by the name of Doctor J, one of the greatest finishers in the game on the fastbreak, and that's the way Starbird is to me. She gets out in the open court and is a great finisher. She's an exciting player and has a lot of flair to her game. We don't have the answer as to how to stop Starbird."

Said Oregon coach Jody Runge: "Kate is a very unselfish player, but if she needs to score 40 for you to win, she will, and very few teams have a player like that. It's difficult to beat a team with a player like that. With her graduating, the playing field begins to get more level."

Starbird foresaw none of this four years ago, when she was a senior at Lakes High School in Tacoma, Wash. Despite graduating as the leading scorer, boy or girl, in state history, Starbird did not expect to play much at Stanford.

" 'Bird and I played in the Olympic Festival the summer before we came to Stanford," senior Charmin Smith said, "and she said, "Probably I won't even play freshman year. I'm just going because it's a great school academically.'

"I look back and see how well she developed and what type of player she's become, and it's kind of cool."