From 1999-2001 Purdue women's basketball enjoyed its most successful run. The lady Boilers won one National Championship and came tantalizingly close to a second one. Naturally, with a stretch that close together, there were a few players that were part of both teams. One player in particular played a major role on both teams that played on the final day of the college basketball season.
That stretch of play also coincided with my time on campus. I admit that I was very spoiled during my four years as a student. I got to see two women's Final Fours, a Rose Bowl, and Purdue's closest approach to a men's Final Four in the past 30 years. Baseball also came within half a game of a Big Ten Championship, making for quite a run. Strangely enough, it is women's basketball that I will remember most, probably because it helped me stay as a Boilermaker. When they won the National Championship my freshman year I was going through a period where I wasn't sure I wanted to stay on campus. Strange to think about given this site, I know. The ensuing celebration helped convince me to stay enrolled as a student.
As with our last entry on the ICONS list, Katie Douglas helped shape me as a Boilermaker. Coming in at 17th place in the voting with 194 votes is the star basketball player from the Southside of Indianapolis that is still plying her trade in this state with the Indiana Fever.
Katie Douglas' high school career
Douglas had a very successful high school career playing for Perry meridian High School on the southside of Indianapolis. She was a 1997 Indiana All-Star that was a contributor in all four years of high school. During her four years the Falcons won a pair of sectional championships and a regional during her senior year. Of the school's seven sectional championships Douglas was responsible for two of them, and Perry Meridian has just three regional crowns. She presided over one of their most successful runs in school history, second only to their 2003 state runner-up finish.
Recently, the Fever held a preseason practice at her old home gym at Perry Meridian, and Douglas spoke with Fox 59 afterward about her high school days.
It was clear that Douglas was going to be something special once she arrived at Purdue. Like me, she was a communications major, but fortunately she has had a stellar basketball career to fall back on since Purdue does very little for Communications majors after graduation. As a true freshman she cracked the rotation immediately. While she didn't start, she averaged 26 minutes per game in all 33 games. Her 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game made her a key contributor off the bench as Purdue went 23-10 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Purdue nearly reached the Final Four, but fell by seven points to Louisiana Tech in the Regional Final.
Douglas' sophomore season was remembered mostly for Ukari Figgs, Stephanie White, and Carolyn Peck all combining for one final run to the National Title. While White and Figgs get a lot of the credit for that memorable season, Douglas' move into the starting lineup was equally valuable. She averaged 14.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists as the very unsung third options behind Figgs and White. Fellow sophomore Camille Cooper also contributed almost ten points per game, making Purdue a very balanced and dangerous foe.
As mentioned in the ICONS profile on Figgs, the season really got underway when Purdue shocked 3-time defending National Champion Tennessee 78-68 in Mackey Arena. The Volunteers were on a 46-game winning streak coming into that game, but Douglas scored 11 points and hit several clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the upset. Purdue took over the top spot in the land after that game, and would stay close to it all season long.
Purdue's lone defeat on the 1998-99 season was a 73-72 loss at Stanford in which Douglas had 19 points. From that point forward absolutely nothing could stop the Boilermakers. Purdue rolled through the rest of its schedule, earning an undefeated Big Ten Championship and #1 seed to the NCAA Tournament. Purdue cruised through the first two rounds at home, beating Oral Roberts and Kansas. North Carolina and Rutgers provided little challenge in the Regional Finals in Normal, IL, sending Purdue to its second Final Four ever.
Once there, Purdue faced Louisiana Tech, the team that eliminated it the previous year. Purdue won again easily 77-63 before beating Duke 62-45 for the National Championship. Douglas scored 13 points in the Championship game. She would be named to the All-Tournament team for her performance. Purdue won all six tournament game by at least 13 points, and I was in the mass of students back on campus burning stuff in the middle of Stadium Avenue as we celebrated our first National Championship in quite some time.
Without Figgs and White the next season Purdue struggled somewhat. As defending champions Douglas still led us to a 23-8 record, but we were shocked at home in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Oklahoma 76-74. Douglas, now the team's unquestioned leader, improved to 20.4 points, 6.5 reobounds, and 4.7 assists per contest. She was named Purdue's female Athlete of the Year, earned second team Academic All-American honors, and was named as a Kodak All-American.
Off the court, Douglas struggled greatly. Even though she had her best statistical season of her college career, she lost her mother to cancer that season. Her father had also succumbed to the disease three years earlier. The Jimmy Foundation named her its first comeback Player of the Year recipient the next season for overcoming these struggles.
With Cooper as her running mate a lot was expected of Purdue during her senior year. Junior guard Kelly Komara was a strong catalyst and a strong freshman class was expected to mesh well with the returning veterans. Douglas' averages dipped to 15.5-4.7-3.7, but she was still the player we looked to with the game on the line. Purdue started the season ranked fourth and went 31-7 overall with a 14-2 record in Big Ten play. That was good enough for a second Big Ten Championship in Douglas' career, and if not for a 75-70 defeat to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, Douglas and Cooper would have finished their careers with four straight Big Ten Tournament crowns.
One of Purdue's regular season losses was a 72-61 defeat to Notre Dame in December. That preceded a 62-55 loss to LSU. We would see both teams again. Purdue begant he NCAA Tournament by beating UC-Santa Barbara 75-62. We then gained revenge with a 73-70 win over LSU to reach the Sweet 16. A 74-72 win over Texas Tech put us in the Elite Eight, where an 88-78 win over Xavier put us back in the Final Four.
I remember that Final Four very clearly because one semifinal, between number one seeds Notre Dame and Connecticut, was deemed as the real championship. Our 81-64 win over Southwest Missouri State (led by all-time NCAA scoring leader Jackie Stiles and her 3,393 career points) was merely a warmup. After the Fighting Irish beat the Huskies it was a foregone conclusion hey would beat us, at least according to the media.
One of my regrets is that I did not road trip to St. Louis for the title game. Instead, I watched it back on campus with some friends. Ruth Riley was expected to roll right over us, but we brought Notre Dame into a dogfight. We actually led for much of the game, including by six at the half. Douglas gave us our final lead at 66-64 with 1:22 to play and it looked like the title could be ours with one defensive stop.
Unfortunately, they still had Riley. She tied the game at 66 with 1:01 left, then put ND on top with a pair of free throws after a defensive stop. Douglas had one last chance for us, but her last second shot missed. Douglas played all 40 minutes and had 18 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in her final game at Purdue, but Riley's 28 points and 13 rebounds were too much.
Douglas finished her career back on the All-Tournament team and was once again selected as a Kodak All-American. Along with Cooper she was named a First Team Academic All-American. She also won the Mackey Award, Varsity Walk Award, Big Ten Player of the Year, and was named the Big Ten's female athlete of the year award winner across all sports. Her 1,965 career points still ranks fifth on the all-time list, and was third at the time of her graduation.
After leaving Purdue Douglas has endured a lengthy professional career. She was reunited with Carolyn Peck when she was drafted 10th overall by the Orlando miracle in the 2011 WNBA Draft. She moved with the franchise to Connecticut whent hey became the Connecicut Sun, but was then traded to the Indiana Fever in 2008. She has earned an MVP award from the WNBA All-Star game and has been a three-time WNBA All-Star. She continues to be one of the top players in the WNBA even after 10 years.
She also has played with several teams overseas during the winter months. She has played in Greece, Lithuania, Turkey, Spain, and Russia, where the contracts are much higher for a few months of winter work than they are in the WNBA.
More recently, she was voted into the Purdue Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009. Her long career has her approaching some all-time WNBA record, as she will likely be in the top 10 in career steals by the end of this season.
There is little doubt that Douglas is a worthy Purdue ICON for both her time at Purdue and her professional career. She has had more success in the pros than Figgs and White, and the way that she overcame the loss of both her parents during her collegiate career is damned impressive. She continues to be a solid professional example of Purdue basketball as one of the WNBA's best. It is an honor to include her on this list of ICONS. You can also follow her blog (in Spanish!) here.