Q: You set numerous state records in high school at Arizona. What habits did you take on that helped you become successful?
Pedersen: “My parents instilled the value of a hard work ethic in me ever since I was little. So I soon developed the habit of giving all of my effort in everything I did, whether it was shooting baskets, running sprints, lifting weights, or studying for tests. I could have been considered a perfectionist to a fault and that helped me accomplish many goals in high school.”
Q: During the recruiting process, what made you end up at Stanford?
Pedersen: “Stanford was always my dream school. I wanted to go there because of its prestigious academic and athletic reputation. I was fortunate enough to be recruited by them and I grew familiar with their program throughout my high school years by attending their camp and taking unofficial visits. So once I was accepted to the school, I was eager to commit to them my junior year of high school.”
Q: You grew up in a basketball family and have obviously played a ton over the years. What keeps you from getting burned out?
Pedersen: “I do spend a lot of time in the gym and it is easy to get burned out. Growing up, my parents pushed me to be my best but they always made sure that I was having fun. I also participated in other sports and this kept me from getting burned out in my youth. As an adult, basketball has now become my job so in order to prevent burnout, I try to surround myself with other activities to give my mind a break from basketball. For example, I’m doing an online graduate program and trying to learn Italian right now. I also try to travel to new places and I love interacting with people from other cultures when I’m overseas. Basketball is not my life or identity and these various activities remind me of that.”
Q: Describe what it felt like to be drafted in the WNBA?
Pedersen: “Being drafted in the WNBA was a dream come true, literally. Growing up, I had season tickets to the WNBA Phoenix Mercury games. I would rush to get the players’ autographs and marvel at the lights and big screens. Everyone knew that my goal was to be in the WNBA when I grew up. Fast forward quite a few years to the WNBA Draft and I was sitting at the ESPN headquarters waiting for my name to be called. Once my name was called, I was shocked and then it hit me that my dream was realized. I had finally made it and my hard work had paid off.”
Q: Former coach Nolan Richardson once described you as a "Larry Bird-type player". Who do you most model your game after?
Pedersen: “I liked watching Dirk Nowitzki play and I’d say I liked to model my versatility after him. But really, I never watched any one player and tried to play like them. My parents told me that they knew I would be tall so I would be that much more valuable to teams if I was a tall player with guard skills.”
Q: Upward Stars has teams all over the country with girls who would love to one day have the opportunity to play college ball. What advice would you give them as they strive for that goal?
Pedersen: “The advice that I would give to players that want to play in college is to work hard. By “work hard” I don’t mean to run yourself into the ground doing the wrong things. It is important to train smart, which means that some days you will have to push yourself beyond your limits. Other days you might just need to recover physically and mentally and catch a movie. Once you hit the proper age you should get into the weight room and work on strength, conditioning, and agility. You should also develop a multitude of skills like shooting, post moves, ball-handling, etc. However, don’t be afraid to identify and perfect your strengths. All of this requires consistent and constant hard work and dedication. You’ll have to sacrifice part of your social life because of the time spent away in the gym and some of your peers won’t understand this and your goals. That can be hard but if you surround yourself with people who encourage and push you, it’s worth it.”
Q: What Bible verse has had the biggest impact on your life?
Pedersen: “Proverbs 3:5-6 has had the most impact on my life. The verse states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Until my junior year of college, basketball was my identity. I broke apart with every failure and soared with every success. I trusted and relied on myself more than anyone so once my performance started to slip during my sophomore year at Stanford, my identity started to fall apart. I was failing as a basketball player and so I thought that I was a failure as a person. At this point, Proverbs 3:5-6 was the verse that God brought into my life. I meditated on it every day and one night it finally reached my heart. I decided to trust God with my life and I handed Him basketball, school, family, and anything else that I cared about. I had new eyes to see that my identity was found in being a child of God instead of in being a basketball player. So now, I trust God with whatever He has in store for me and I look to Him in everything I am and do!”
Kayla Pedersen is a forward for the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA. She played her college ball at Stanford where she became the Pac-10’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,266), and also averaged 13.0 ppg and 8.0 rpg for her career there. Playing high school ball for Red Mountain High in Mesa, AZ, Pedersen garnered numerous achievements including being named Gatorade Player of the Year twice (2006 & 2007) and a McDonalds’ All-American (2007). Follow Kayla on Twitter: @Kaylapedersen7