Kitch in Sync

The same competitive fire that took Kitch Kitchen from the war-zone streets of Newark to basketball stardom has now made her the Valley's hottest rapper.

In her first season with the Sun Devils, Kitchen made a solid contribution, starting all but one of the team's 27 games, and averaging 6.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. But she was still adjusting to the quicker pace and higher talent level of Pac-10 ball after two years of juco play.

By 1999-2000, her senior year, she was ready to assert herself. Early in the season, she scorched the nets for 15 first-half points in a road game against the University of Texas. In early January 2000, she averaged 13 points in back-to-back upset wins over Stanford and California. The victory over Stanford was the Sun Devils' first against the Cardinal since 1992, and suggested that ASU's women's program was beginning to turn a corner.

For her play in the two wins, Kitchen was named Pac-10 Player of the Week. At midseason, ASU's record stood at a surprising 10-4, with solid prospects for a postseason berth.

During this same period, however, Kitchen received shattering news. Her mother, Lorraine Kitchen, had died from what Kitchen describes as a mysterious heart ailment.

"From what I understand, she went to the hospital, something was wrong with her heart, she went home, and then she had to be rushed back to the hospital, where she passed away," Kitchen says.

Six years earlier, she'd lost her father under similar circumstances, while she was away from home, playing basketball. As with her mother's death, she seems unclear about the cause of death, and does not appear to want to know. "The story I got was something about his kidneys," she says tersely.

Kitchen isn't one to wallow in her emotional frailties, and she tends to offer a detached view of such personal losses. She says in the past two years alone, at least six close relatives have died, most from drugs and violence. But the hard-boiled emotional resilience that her grandmother planted in her as a child continues to guide her.

"People ask me, 'Kitch, you don't cry?' But I can't put my life on hold because you chose to live your life a certain kind of way. It's not so much that it doesn't bother me or that I don't care about it, it's just that's how my grandmother raised me.

"I tell everybody, 'Don't call me to come home unless my grandmother died. If anybody else died, I'll write a letter to read at the funeral.' I can't take five-hour trips back and forth across the coasts because someone wanted to get shot or somebody wanted to be drug overdosing. I can't deal with that kind of stuff."

Nonetheless, Turner Thorne contends that the accumulation of tragedy, particularly the death of Lorraine Kitchen, took its toll on Kitchen's play in the second half of the season. Though she had a solid year (averaging nearly 10 points a game), both she and the team saw their fortunes dip down the stretch. The Sun Devils dropped 11 of their last 15 games, and failed to advance to either the NCAA or NIT tournaments.

"She still had a great year, and we progressed the program," Turner Thorne says. "But she was playing really well when it hit, and emotionally she never totally recovered.

"In some ways, I think she didn't always have the benefit of having someone help her cope with stuff. I think in some ways it would be good for her to cry, but she just kind of has a tough persona, and she'll say, 'I'll be okay. I can handle this.' But she's dealt with more tragedy in her short life than anyone I know."

Turner Thorne can't help but consider the possibilities if Kitchen had been eligible to play one more season with ASU. She says an additional year would have been enough to earn Kitchen a spot in the WNBA draft. As it stands, Kitchen probably needs seasoning in the European leagues before she can compete for a spot in the WNBA.

"She has the ability," Turner Thorne says. "She'd probably need to pick a position. If she's going to be a point guard, concentrate on that, or if she's going to be a two-guard, work on that. But she's got a lot of qualities that could help a WNBA franchise, because she'll play good aggressive defense. And she's versatile."

Kitchen herself has vacillated on the issue of professional basketball. A few months ago, she says, she felt strongly committed to giving it a try. Now, she's cooling on the idea.

"I'm 24, and I'm not going to the WNBA tryouts every year to try and play in the league," she says. "They don't pay enough. I might as well work a regular job."

But Kitchen continues to work on her game, in case she decides to try out again for the WNBA. She practiced with the ASU team at least twice a week this season, and plays as much pickup basketball as her schedule will allow.

During Spring Break week, a Wednesday night of pickup hoops at Mesa's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints demonstrates what a force Kitchen can be on the court when she's at her peak.

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