On a crisp November night, Kari Korver stepped into the spotlight of Pauley Opening Madness, ready to face fellow freshman guard, Jordan Adams, in the three-point shooting contest. Moments later, Korver calmly drained her first three-point shot. Then, she hit another, and then several more, bringing the thousands of people in the stands to their feet.
Adams, though, missed his first shot attempt and never recovered, allowing Korver, the eventual winner, to steal the show.
It was then that her teammates rushed to her and lifted her up on their shoulders, carrying her off the court in a ‘Rudy’-like fashion.
“We talk about college being about, ‘Remember when’s’. ‘Remember when we did this’ and ‘Remember when that happened,’ and that’s going to be a great ‘Remember when’ in Kari Korver’s career,” said coach Cori Close.
But the picturesque moment, and her UCLA basketball career, almost eluded Korver.
She almost didn’t make it to Westwood, until she caught a few breaks along the way.
Before Close even took the UCLA coaching position, she was getting pushed to recruit Korver.
The day Close left her office after being offered the job, a colleague and personal friend gave her some simple advice.
“(He) said, ‘If you take this job, there’s one player you must recruit. She’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen – and that’s Kari Korver,’” Close said.
But she brushed off the encounter, describing her initial reaction as “whatever.”
Four days after Close did indeed take the job, she received a phone call from Korver’s Amateur Athletic Union coach.
“He said, ‘She wants to play with coaches with your values, and her dream school is UCLA. Will you come watch her?’” Close said.
So she obliged and went to scout Korver, who led the nation in three-point field goals as a junior, during the first recruiting summer evaluation period.
Still, it wasn’t until the very last evaluation period Close watched that Korver caught her eye.
“She was six of eight from the three-point line in the first half. In the first half,” said Close, still astonished.
“And so obviously that night, at midnight, when I was allowed to call her, I offered her a scholarship.”
Korver, ESPN’s No. 99-ranked recruit, verbally committed three days later.
But four days later, the guard tore her left ACL playing basketball.
As she hadn’t put pen to paper yet, her scholarship offer wasn’t official and could be given to another healthy recruit.
“(Kari) called me all worried about whether or not we would keep the offer, and it was a no-brainer,” Close said.
“Because as good of a basketball player as she is, she’s a more quality young lady. She’s a culture-changer and that’s the kind of player you want to have in your program.”
Korver, though, was grateful her coach had complete faith in her before she had ever donned a UCLA jersey.
“(Coach) could have taken (the offer) away and given it to someone else. But … I think she figured I would work hard to rehab it and be back,” Korver said.
Now, she has taken full advantage of her opportunity, steadily improving throughout the season and becoming a key bench player.
Before Sunday’s game, she set new career-highs in points (13, 14) in consecutive games.
“My first thought was she’s a really great shooter. (But) you know she’s a really hard worker and she’s eager to learn,” said junior guard Thea Lemberger.
“She really wants to get better. She’s always finding ways to ask why or how or what can make her get better.”
Email Chris Kalra at [email protected].