Bergin Robinson was a little intimidated. Jasmine Clerkley remembers a bit of that same feeling.
At 6-foot-4, Kristen Rasmussen did that to her new players at Okemos High School when she met them for the first time a few months ago.
But it was more than just her physical stature. It was also the rich basketball credentials of being a successful Division I player at Michigan State, playing in the WNBA and overseas and also coaching at the collegiate level that brought about those initial reactions.
Those feelings have since faded.
“She’s tall, she knows what she’s doing and she’s been around the block a few times,” Robinson said. “I don’t know, she’s just great.
“Her confidence really rubs off on people. Her energy really fills up the room.”
As girls basketball season opens this week, Okemos believes it’s in good hands under its new leader. The 38-year old Rasmussen is among a handful of new girls basketball coaches in the Lansing area, and she’s ready to give back to a place that was the starting point for her basketball career.
“It’s a very different perspective, but it’s fun to be back, and it’s exciting,” said Rasmussen, an Okemos alum who was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame last year. “I like the idea of being back at the school where my career started at. I’m just looking forward to helping the players develop this program and put our program as something that kids in the Okemos school district want to be a part of. It’s exciting, and it’s new.”
Rasmussen returned to Okemos after spending the last five seasons coaching at Division III Simmons College in Boston. Prior to that, she played four years at Michigan State, played in the WNBA from 2000 to 2008 and also played overseas.
Knowing that Rasmussen was once in their shoes is appealing to players such as Robinson, Clerkley and highly regarded sophomore Laya Hartman, who each aspire to continue their basketball careers beyond Okemos.
“I think it’s very cool because not a lot of other schools have a coach that has done that. We’re very lucky to have her,” said Clerkley.
“Considering that she played at Okemos, played at MSU and played in the WNBA, I think that’s really awesome,” Robinson said. “For us, it’s going to be a great learning opportunity, and she can share her knowledge. She’s really good at coaching. I think good things are going to happen this year and throughout the rest of my high school career.”
Rasmussen has been pleased with the work ethic and open-minded approach her players have had in her time working with them. And she’s trying to make the most of her opportunity to give back to a place that set the stage for her basketball career.
“I’m not sure how many places around the country have that opportunity, but I know that, for some of the players that I’ve played with that are in the college and high school rankings, it’s a huge thing for players to be able to give back to the community that they thrived in,” Rasmussen said. “I’m just excited to be back at Okemos. This is where everything started for me. Being able to come back with the knowledge and experience that I have and being able to build up the girls, not only in the Okemos community, but in the mid-Michigan area (is great).”