Folkl's only weakness: Taking a compliment

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPNET SportsZone


APRIL 1, 1998

Perhaps this is the last time to write about Kristin Folkl as a college athlete.

This is not for certain, of course. At the Kodak All-America awards ceremony in Kansas City last week, Folkl, one of the team's 10 members, said she had things "a lot more sorted out in my mind. I know what I'm doing.''

Coming back to play basketball one more year at Stanford? Going pro? ABL? WNBA? What about volleyball?

"I'm not saying yet,'' she said. "There's just some more people I need to talk to. It's nothing major, just ...''

She laughed.

  Kristin Folkl
Think Kristin Folkl is hard to contain on the court? Try getting her to talk about her strengths.

"You guys are gonna think I do this just to toy with you,'' Folkl said to the group of reporters around her. "That's not it. There's just so many parts, and it takes time. You can't get at all the pieces simultaneously.''

A writer teased her, "OK, as long as you realize the longer you wait, the more we have to ask you.''

Folkl joked back, "Yeah, I know. I'm just building things up.''

She isn't trying to do that, of course. She's just a 22-year-old with a lot of options to weigh, and an ultimate decision made more complicated by the season-ending knee injury she suffered March 10.

We know this much for sure: She wants to keep pursuing both sports, basketball and volleyball, as long as possible. First, though, she must rehab from the only really serious injury she's ever had.

She said the knee wasn't causing her any pain last week, but she knew the reconstructive surgery -- which she'll undergo Thursday -- would change that.

"I think when I have surgery and I'm bedridden for five days and on everything you can possibly use to kill pain, then it will really hit me that I'm injured and I have a long recovery ahead,'' she said.

Still, there's the decision to be announced. According to Stanford sports information director Beth Goode, the earliest that will come is next week.

For those who follow women's basketball, it's been a season-long game of speculation about Folkl. The prevailing opinion seems to be that she will not be back to anchor the Cardinal next season, though she has a year of hoops eligibility left.

Why is Folkl's decision such a big deal to a lot of people -- far beyond just those who are Stanford fans?

Because Folkl is the type of person and athlete that pro sports needs. Further, she has the potential to become a household name.

Practically any 3-year-old in America knows who Michael Jordan is -- the guy in "Space Jam.'' Who says Folkl can't be in one of the sequels?

"She's a franchise,'' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She is an elite athlete. Someone who is not afraid to compete. You cannot get her rattled; she is always poised.''

And yet, it is something even beyond that. It's always said that great players make everyone around them better. In Folkl's case, she does that not just by grabbing so much of the opponents' attention but also how much she elevates an entire team's mindset.

While some stars seem to need to hoard their confidence for themselves, Folkl radiates enough of it for everyone. She is generous with pats on the back, encouraging words, high-fives.

It just comes naturally to her. It isn't forced, or fake, or "Gee, I sure better act humble so no one thinks I have a big head.'' It's simply the way she is.

It's hilarious, actually, to watch Folkl try to take a compliment. Throw out a couple of them to her, and pretty soon you've got a 6-foot-2 giggling beet. You'd think Folkl wouldn't still blush and laugh every time someone tells her how much they enjoy watching her play, but she does.

In her mind, she is just No. 24 on a team.

"I'm not the most fluid player in the world, not the biggest and strongest. I'm a good role player."
    -- Kristin Folkl

After the Kodak ceremony, she was asked about not having the chance to play against Tennessee superstar Chamique Holdsclaw. (How about Holdsclaw and Folkl in Space Jam II or III or IV?)

"Oh, yeah we have played each other,'' Folkl said, smiling. "In high school. I'm proud to say we won. It was in a tournament in Springfield, Mo.''

But she hasn't played Holdsclaw in college. The three matchups between Holdsclaw's Tennessee teams and Stanford have come when Folkl either wasn't on or wasn't with the Cardinal hoops team.

Fans lament this, because many certainly see the two in that small group atop college basketball.

But Folkl says, "The thing is, I don't think you can ever match up two players in a basketball game that way. It's the teams, not me vs. her.

"And second, we're completely different style players. She's more Michael Jordan-esque, runs the floor, very fluid and ...''

Reporters saw it coming before Folkl did. She was in a corner and had picked up her dribble. No getting out of this one. She was going to have to say something positive about herself.

Holdsclaw is like Michael Jordan and Folkl is like ... c'mon, Kristin, c'mon, who are you like?


"I'm more like ... um, sort of like a David Robinson-type,'' Folkl says, laughing nervously again. "More like an underneath ... I don't know, just bigger. I also think Chamique's much further advanced in her skills at this point than I am.''

Then someone asks about her approach to this past season and her impact on the Cardinal.

"They played a really, really, really intense schedule before I got there,'' she said. "Then in the Pac-10 ... ''

Heh, heh, heh. She's stuck again. She doesn't want to insult the other teams in the league, see, but she has to come up with some reason -- besides herself, that is -- that Stanford was 2-4 when she joined the team and then won 19 of the next 20.

"They would have been winning whether I'd shown up or not,'' Folkl concludes.

Two reporters can't contain themselves and burst into laughter. They aren't laughing at Stanford's other players, mind you, but at Folkl's ability to minimize herself.

"Now, stop that,'' she said. "I mean, I helped. If for no other reason than we had a three-person post rotation.''

She was asked to further describe herself as a player.

"Some combination of finesse and strength,'' she said. "I'm not the most fluid player in the world, not the biggest and strongest. I just try to get good position. I'm a good role player.''

Listeners' eyes rolled. She was pressed to give a better description than that.

"Well, help me out,'' she said. "How do you see me?''

How about ... franchise?

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star writes a regular women's basketball column for ESPNET SportsZone. Her e-mail address is