As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” That might be true for some, but definitely not Shalee Lehning, assistant coach for K-State’s women’s basketball team and former player.
After graduating from K-State, setting several university and Big 12 Conference records and seeing her jersey hung in the rafters, it was on to the WNBA to continue her career.
Drafted 25th by the Atlanta Dream in 2009, Lehning was able to join a team that was ready to contend for championships. In her rookie season, Lehning started 20 out of 34 games and led the Dream with 3.7 assists per game.
Her first off-season was a big one — on Jan. 26, 2010, she was added to the K-State coaching staff. K-State head coach Deb Patterson said getting Lehning was a must for her team.
“Anytime you can add someone like Lehning to your staff, you do it,” Patterson said. “Everything she accomplished here as a player — she epitomizes our program. She can still play a little bit as well, so she gives our players a challenge in practice, besides her knowledge of the game.”
After her stellar rookie season, the Atlanta Dream felt that Lehning was a key member of the team and decided to vote her a co-captain. Dream head coach Fred Williams, who was an assistant at the time, said the team made the right call.
“Being a captain is more than just the way you play on the court,” Williams said. “She was very good on the court, but her personality off was equally as impressive. Shalee is one of those people that you just flock to and want to hang out with. On road trips or in spare time, she was always drawing a crowd. You just want to hang out with her.”
Lehning proved the team right, starting all 33 games. She once again lead the team with 4.8 assists and helped guide the Dream to an Eastern Conference championship before falling in the WNBA finals. Lehning said it was a true honor to be named a captain in only her second season.
“It was awesome to be named captain, it was an honor,” Lehning said. “I am more of a leader in the fact that I lead by example. I go out and do my job the way I know how to and make sure that I am doing everything in my power to help the team. It showed the team had faith in me.”
On July 3, 2011, Lehning tore her ACL in a game against the Connecticut Sun, ending her season and landing her in surgery to repair the injury. On Jan. 31, 2012, complications from the surgery forced Lehning to make the decision to retire from the game she loved, a decision that she said was the hardest of her life.
“It was by far the toughest decision that I have ever had to make,” Lehning said. “Basketball is the sport that I absolutely love, but God had a plan for me and I followed it. I still get to practice against the team all the time, so it is not like I have hung up the shoes. It was hard at first, but I love coaching and it is my future.”
According to Williams, Lehning’s passion for the game of basketball as a player will drive her to succeed as a coach.
“Shalee truly loves the game of basketball,” Williams said. “Whether it was playing or just talking basketball, it is her life. I have absolutely no doubt that she will continue to improve as a coach and become an outstanding coach in the future. She just loves basketball too much not to succeed.”
Lehning’s career path has taken a few unexpected turns, but rather than let the injury define her, she took the challenge head-on. Lehning is now an instrumental part of the K-State women’s basketball team — for a second time.