|
"King" of the court
Defender Julie King swaps soccer cleats for basketball sneakers

Julie King’s athletic career at Auburn University ended last fall, her senior season on the women’s soccer team, or so she thought. King is back on campus and will play for the women’s basketball team this winter. After wrapping up her 2012 WPSL Elite rookie season with the regular season champion Breakers, King returned to Auburn as part of an internship as an undergraduate assistant for the women’s soccer team. But shortly thereafter, King found herself talking to Auburn women’s basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy after she was highly recommended from Auburn athletic personnel, who praised King’s athletic ability.

“My senior women’s administrator (Meredith Jenkins) is the one that mentioned her to me, and then we spoke to Karen (Hoppa), her soccer coach, and we kind of just went from there," Williams-Flournoy said. “(When we met), she talked about how excited her father was for her to be playing basketball. It seems as if it’s something that’s always been in the back of her mind, and it’s almost like a dream come true for her right now. From everything that we’ve heard about Julie, the first thing that both her soccer coach and her trainer said was, ’really athletic, great competitor.’ When you say those two things, it automatically sparks your interest. To have that on our basketball team, to bring a competitor and somebody with that athleticism, it fits right into our style of play.”

In mid-August, King had a meeting with the coach, who wanted to know if King was fully committed to play for the Tigers. 

"She was asking me if I really wanted to play," King said. "The answer was easy."

Then came a week of workouts so Williams-Flournoy and her staff could evaluate King. On Aug. 20, King got the official word. She was now a member of the Auburn University women’s basketball team.

"It is a dream come true. It is truly incredible," King said. "I was devastated when my basketball team lost my senior year. I knew it meant that basketball would never be the same. There are always rec leagues and things like that, but I knew it would never be as competitive or mean as much, until now. I am so honored and blessed to have this opportunity. It’s truly a privilege to be able to compete with this team at the highest level for the school that I love, in another sport that I love and have missed the last four years. I really could not ask for anything more."

King is certainly no stranger to the basketball court. Colleges heavily recruited her when she starred at Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves, Mo., just outside of her hometown, St. Louis.

"My dad (Kevin) played in college, so I had a basketball in my hands before I knew what soccer was," King said.

A four-year varsity starter for Nerinx Hall, King earned all-conference and all-state honors as one of the best guards in the state. She led her team to the quarterfinals as both a junior and senior. The Markers compiled a combined record of 47-12 those two seasons. The 5-foot, 9-inch King, however, opted for soccer in college, a sport she equally excelled in at the school.

"Before my sophomore year started, I had to decide which one I wanted to play in college in order to do what I needed to do to get myself seen in whatever sport I chose. It was a very difficult decision, but I basically chose soccer because it meant that I could still play basketball as well. I have always loved both equally, and whenever I was asked as a kid which one I liked better my answer was always, ’Soccer when I am playing soccer, basketball when I am playing basketball’, and that really is the truth," King said. "Soccer was always my main sport growing up, even though I loved both. It just ended up that way because my older sister, Caitlin, played club soccer, so that is what I did."

This season with the Breakers, King played 14 games, starting nine, for a total of 967 minutes. She had one assist. Her speed, stamina, athleticism, and will to win on the field transitions to the basketball court. Williams-Flournoy sees King as a big asset to her team this winter.

“I saw her jump up (in practice) and slap the backboard, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ You can definitely see the athleticism, and from everything that I hear, she’s a great competitor," she said. “(She) fits into our style of play. Her competitiveness, and I think bringing a fifth-year senior into your program, gives you this comfort of a leader already on your team. There’s so many things that she’s already been through and so many ways that she can help the young kids, ways that we can’t even think about as coaches that her leadership helps the younger kids.”

NCAA regulations allow King to play one year of basketball, having already completed four years in another college sport. So she’s taking every advantage of this opportunity, and her excitement level is through the roof.

"I was ecstatic (when I found out I made the team). I couldn’t and still cannot believe that this is actually happening," King said. "I really don’t think it’s going to completely sink in until I suit up for the first game. I have a lot I need to work on, like refining my technique and footwork. So right now it is my goal to bring a good and hard work ethic to every workout, because I know that is probably the one thing I can control right now. Also having a positive attitude and being a good teammate." 

 Julie King played in 14 games this past season with the Breakers at outside back.

When Boston’s WPSL Elite season ended, King took some time off. She essentially had played soccer for seven of the previous 10 months, dating back to last fall with the Tigers. Her body needed the rest. When she started workouts with the basketball team at Auburn, she found it challenging at first, but has since adapted.

"The fitness is a lot different from soccer, but so far I am hanging in there and seeing progress every day," King said. "It can be frustrating because as a competitor, I expect a lot from myself, but right now I am trying to take it one day at a time, and as long as I am doing my best, I know I am getting better. Luckily, I have joined early enough that I have some time to get myself into basketball shape before any games. Even though I have been out of the sport for a while, I think that my experience as a soccer player for Auburn and the Breakers is going to be one of the best things I can bring to the table. I know what it takes to compete with the best, and I know that my teammates do as well. I am very excited for this season. I know we will compete with the best."

King’s Breakers teammates have nothing but praise for her, including one of her closest friends on the team, midfielder Bianca D’Agostino.

"I’m so excited for her to be joining the Auburn basketball team. If anyone can do it, it would be Julie," D’Agostino said. "I think she’s going to be a positive addition to the team on and off the court. She’s a super hard worker and can get a long with everyone. She will fit right in and will dominate the workouts."

So, which Breakers do King thinks would make good basketball players?

"Wow, you are really putting me on the spot here. Well, the first person that comes to mind is Taryn (Hemmings) because she is insanely fast and quick, so she would probably be a lock-down defender. I am not sure how her jump shot is though," King said. "I know Cat (Whitehill) has a basketball history, so with her competitiveness to tack on to that, she would definitely have herself in the running.

"I could see Courtney (Jones) being good, too, but I feel like she would probably foul out of all the games," King said with a laugh. "I think the only way to settle this is with tryouts, or maybe a 3v3 tourney when I get back to Boston."

 

Before the games begin in mid-November, King will remain an integral part of the women’s soccer team’s coaching staff, helping to lead the Tigers to hopefully a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers basketball team opens the 2012/13 season on the weekend of Nov. 9-10, playing at the Wolfpack Invitational in Raleigh, N.C. On Nov. 15, they host Alabama State in their home opener at Auburn Arena.

"I will continue to be involved with the soccer team as much as I can. So far it has been an amazing learning experience. It is very different being on the other side of things, but I really like it," King said. "The hardest part about joining the basketball team was knowing that I would have to miss soccer games and practices. The soccer team is also a fantastic group to be around, and it was a lot of fun getting to play and coach with them for a few weeks. I will still be around, but I think my role will become more of a behind the scenes one, such as working on film and helping to plan practices."

As far as the 2013 soccer season, King said she very much wants to be a part of it and come back to Boston.

"My experience in Boston was extraordinary. It far exceeded my expectations in every aspect, and I would love to be back in the spring," King said. "I think that my body will be ready to play. I know it is a much different level, but in high school I always remember thinking that the transition from basketball to soccer was easier than the opposite. Plus, I know that after a season of basketball, I will be aching to get back on the pitch with my Breakers girls, which I am sure will make the transition that much easier."