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Leaving Las Vegas

During her junior year of high school, Jen Kline quit playing basketball. Problems at Basic High School in Nevada led Kline to give up the sport.

“I didn’t pick up a ball for so long,” said Kline, a freshman guard for USF. “I never wanted to play again. Then, one day I decided to go in the back yard and shoot some hoops. I had lost the fun. It has to be fun because it’s just a game.”

Thankfully for USF, Kline had a change of heart and resumed playing basketball her senior year at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. She averaged 15 points and eight rebounds a game as the school advanced to the state semifinals. All Star Girls Report ranked her the No. 200 prospect in the nation and the Division I schools came calling.

“It’s flattering to know that people (across the nation) know about you,” Kline said. “The visits were great. You get to be pampered for a whole weekend. After awhile, I was like ‘Mom, please don’t answer the phone.’ It was annoying at the time, but Alana (Tanksley) and I were saying the other day that we’d like to be recruited again.”

Kline narrowed her choice to Colorado State and USF, but the snow in Fort Collins made it an easy decision for Kline. Having a coach like Jose Fernandez in charge certainly quieted Kline’s fears even though the team was embroiled in the controversy left by Jerry Ann Winters’ dismissal.

“What he’s done in such a short time, that’s awesome,” Kline said. “He signed a really good class with all that stuff going. That really speaks about him as a person. He’s concerned with what you’re doing as a person. He does a phenomenal job and I’d be crushed if he left.”

Being far from home is no big deal for a player of Kline’s stature. Prior to her senior year of high school, Kline competed in tournaments and camps across the country, including the adidas Top 10 National Camp where she teamed with Tanksley for the first time. Still, the rigors of a college basketball player’s schedule means few trips back home.

“I didn’t even get to go home for Christmas,” Kline said. “I haven’t seen my mom since August. But we talk almost every day.”Kline wasted no time bursting onto the scene, tallying 23 points in her USF debut. Her performance in Boston that weekend earned her Conference USA’s Player of the Week.

“Jen was so seasoned coming in,” Fernandez said. “All four freshmen were so heavily recruited and they’ve come here and gained an invaluable amount of experience. To average (14.7 points per game, best on the team) in this conference is remarkable. She is very important to us.”

She continued to shine until her freshman campaign was interrupted by a stress fracture against Western Kentucky Dec. 16. The injury sidelined the lanky 6-foot-1 guard for six weeks and the Bulls struggled in her absence, going from 7-2 to 12-8 when she returned Feb. 1 against TCU.

“We needed her defensively,” Fernandez said. “It hurt her being out, not able to contribute.”

Kline has returned in a big way, averaging 14 ppg over the last three games. In her most recent outing, Kline had a game-high 18 points, still a loss for the Bulls. That defeat dropped the Bulls (12-11, 2-8 in Conference USA) into a three-way tie with UAB and East Carolina for the 12th and final spot in the C-USA Tournament in Chicago March 1-4. That makes this weekend’s matchups with ECU (5-18, 2-8) and Charlotte (13-10, 5-5) critical to the Bulls’ postseason aspirations.

“I really want to go (to the conference tournament) … I can’t imagine not going,” Kline said.

To go though, the Bulls need to find their way out of the free fall they’ve entered in conference play. Since knocking off UAB in their C-USA opener, the Bulls have dropped eight of their last nine games. The lone victory was an upset of then-No. 23 Tulane Jan. 20 in New Orleans.

“We’re getting out of it this weekend,” Kline said. “There’s been some arguing but we’re ready. I want to do it for Dione (Smith) because it’s her senior year. But it’s tough because now we need to pray that other teams lose and we win.”

But Kline’s vision isn’t limited to the next few weeks.

“I want to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Kline said.

“I want to be a ranked team. Basketball is what I love. I’d definitely go overseas to play professionally. I want to do this as long as I can.”