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ClementOne on One with
Kristen "Ace" Clement
University of Tennessee

She may not be as well known as Tamika and Semeka, but this senior Lady Vol holds the key to Tennessee's quest for the 2001 national title.

Kristen "Ace" Clement has done a good job of living up to the nickname her brother gave her when the two first started playing basketball together. At Cardinal O'Hara High School in Philadelphia, her 2,256 career points broke NBA great Wilt Chamberlain's long-standing city scoring record, and she was just the second player in school history to have her number retired. (The first was Theresa Grentz, now Head Coach at the University of Illinois.)

Playing both the shooting- and point-guard positions for the University of Tennessee, the 5-11 Clement has helped to continue the school's winning tradition, alongside players such as Chamique Holdsclaw, Semeka Randall, and Tamika Catchings. As a junior last season, she led the Lady Vols in assists with 3.5 per game, and was voted the team's best defensive player by her teammates.

This past March, Clement helped the Lady Vols return to the Final Four, which was held in her home town of Philadelphia. But the morning of the championship game against Connecticut, she severely injured her ankle in practice, causing her to miss the title tilt, which Tennessee lost, 71-52 -- no doubt in part due to the absence of Clement's fiery floor leadership.

In the following interview, Clement talks about her love of the sport, what it was like to have Chamique as a teammate, and her post-college goals.

So, how did you get your nickname? It's an apt nickname for someone who's a great athlete.
I was born in New Hampshire and moved to Philadelphia when I was around seven years old. I used to hang around my brother, Steve, who is three years older than me, and I would play sports with him and his friends. Steve's friends called me "the Ace" because I was pretty much killing all the guys when we played. So Steve started calling me "Ace," and pretty much everyone else started calling me Ace, too. Also, when I started playing soccer there were four Kristens on the team, so they asked if anyone had a nickname, and I told them they could call me Ace. From there, it just grew. Even my mom calls me Ace.

When did you first realize that you had something special as a basketball player?
My first love was soccer, so I never really gave much thought to basketball--it was something that just came naturally to me. Going into eighth grade was around the time when I picked it up. I never was too serious about it, I just played to have fun. But in high school, I took it more seriously and I started getting questionnaires from colleges. I still didn't know if I wanted to play college ball, but junior year when the colleges could contact me, I started getting more serious about my basketball. I was traveling and meeting the other elite players like Tamika, Semeka, and Nikki Teasley. Playing against such great competition was when I fell in love with the game and knew it was something I wanted to do.

You had your pick of college programs. What drew you to Tennessee?
Obviously, the tradition they have here of national championships. Education was also a priority for me, and they have a great communications and broadcasting program here, which is what I'm majoring in. Coach Summitt was another bonus. She has a great relationship with her players, regardless of what they do when they leave Tennessee, whether they play professional or go overseas, or just go into corporate America. She's going to help her players the best she can and built a great relationship with them over the years.

She seems very intense at times. Was that hard to adjust to as a player?
No, because when you come to an elite program that is a national contender year in and year out, you've got to come with that competitive fire. If you can't take the heat, then this is not a place for you. When you sign that letter of intent, you have to understand what you're getting yourself into. As far as the intensity of Coach Summitt, some people say that she's mean, but we don't look at it that way. We understand that it's just the tone that she's speaking in, and it's the message that's very important.

As a freshman at Tennessee you hurt your foot and missed the first few games of the season. Was that your first injury?
Yes, as far as having to sit out as long as I did. I had broken my wrist before and turned ankles, but never to the point where I missed games. I had come in and was in great shape and doing really well, and it was big set back. You need your feet to do everything, so it was a crucial injury.

How did it affect you mentally? Did you play tentatively when you came back?
It hurt, but I just sucked it up. As far as the mental aspect, just knowing that my team was growing and progressing on the court every day, while I was sitting on the sidelines able to do absolutely nothing, got to me more than anything.

You played with Chamique Holdsclaw for two years at Tennessee. What was it like to have her as a teammate?
Everyone on the team, of course, knew that she was the premier collegiate player in the game, the best of the best, the Michael Jordan of the women's game. But as teammates, we kind of separated from that. When we stepped on the floor, we looked past the names and just saw people who were there to compete, who had the same goals of winning the SEC and national championship. I think that showed a lot of maturity, not only from myself but the rest of the team -- to come in day in and day out and not sit back and let her do all the work. It was more like we rallied around her and understood that it was a team effort.

Obviously, it was great honor to step on the floor with her, to compete with and learn from her. We also respected her as a young woman as well.

You suffered a severe ankle injury right before the championship game versus Connecticut last season, which was held in your hometown of Philadelphia. Missing that game must have been very disappointing on many levels.
Yes, not many college athletes can say they had the opportunity to go play in the Final Four in their hometown. That was something that was very special to me, to play in front of people I grew up with and supported me through high school. To roll my ankle the day of the game was very emotional. I can't even explain how I felt. I don't know what the reasoning was for it. I just put everything in God's hands and know he does things for a reason. I know a lot of people don't like to hear that, but you've got to accept it and move on and learn from it, and prepare yourself for situations like that.

How's your ankle now?
Oh, it's 100 percent. Everything's going really well this year so far.

Going into your senior season, Tennessee is obviously loaded again with returning and new talent. Where do you see yourself fitting in this year?
I'm going to fit in, whether I play point guard or two guard, or whether I'm starting or coming off the bench. We've got four great freshmen this year and a lot of depth. Even at practices, you might sit out two rotations during a drill just because we have so many good people. That's to our advantage. You've got to look at that as a bonus and know that when you do get tired, there are fresh legs that can come in and do just as good a job or better in keeping the ball rolling, so to speak. I think it's going to take a lot of pressure off us as far as minutes; it's going to be more of a team effort this season. All I can do is go out there and be the emotional leader that I am and try to pull the team together and keep everyone focused.

Have you thought of your future both on and off the court?
I definitely would like to play in the WNBA. But that's only in the summertime, so I'd like to use my broadcasting communications major to become a sideline reporter for the NBA or NFL or something like that. Just something involving sports, maybe in the public relations field. I've thought about playing abroad, but that's something I'll decide when it's time to cross that bridge. We'll have to see what happens down the road, but my number-one priority is to play in the league.

What sort of advice would you give to younger girls who love basketball, want to succeed in high school or college, and get the most out of the game?
The sky's the limit. There are so many opportunities out there these days for younger girls as well as collegiate players. But play basketball for the love of it -- do it because you want to do it, not because your parents or other people want you to. No one can make you happy but yourself, and if you don't have the love of the game, you're not going to get anything out. Whatever you're doing, you've got to have the love.

Interview conducted by Gball Associate Editor Jim Catalano.


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