Former Lady Frog Safaritova Returns to TCU to Finish Degree
Aug. 14, 2003
FORT WORTH, Texas
The month of August takes on several different meanings for those who reside in the world of academia known as TCU. For some, it is a chance for one last summer vacation, while others view it as the ultimate struggle between air conditioners and the intense, unforgiving Texas heat. But, there is a commonality shared among the various factions that comprise the university when it comes to the month that the first Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, felt compelled to name after himself in the process of completing his great-uncle Julius' reform of the calendar. It represents the beginning of the next academic year and an opportunity to welcome back new and familiar faces among the student population. One of those faces that may be a little more recognizable than some belongs to Kati Safaritova, a standout for the Lady Frog basketball team in 2000-01 and 2001-02.
Safaritova, known more affectionately to her friends and fans as simply "Safi," (pronounced "sh-AAH-fee") spent the past year playing professionally for a team in Belgium. Before Safaritova left to pursue her hoops career in a country that sits slightly northwest of her native Slovakia, something got left behind in Cow Town. And no, it was not a pair of basketball shoes or a purple and white jersey that sported the No. 33 she held for two years. It was her degree and now she is back to finish a journey that began back in July 1998.
"I always planned on coming back," Safaritova said. "I came to the United States with the intention of earning my degree and that's what I'm going to do. Hopefully, some day I can get my master's as well."
Safaritova is studying psychology, but she did not choose the field until her second year at TCU. She dabbled with the idea of pursuing computer science, however, after reexamining her interests, Safaritova opted for psychology.
"I really like working with kids," said a grinning Safaritova, who earned a spot on Conference USA's Commissioner's Honor Roll her senior season. "That's why my degree is focused on child psychology. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do (with my degree), but at least I know what I like being around."
For now, she will be working within the TCU community in residential services and possibly the new recreation center.
"It was strange when I showed up at residential services for the first time," remarked Safaritova. "The people there recognized me and already knew me as Safi. It was kind of flattering."
But, is it really a surprise that the 6-foot-2 Safaritova was so easily identified? Hardly. In her first year with the Lady Frogs, she scored over 400 points and led TCU in scoring with over 12 points per contest. Safaritova's final season was a bit of déjà vu, as she topped the Purple and White in scoring once again at a hair under 14 each outing. She also displayed a great deal of range, knocking down over 40 percent of her three-point attempts. In both seasons, she received all-conference kudos, including first-team recognition by C-USA during her final year.
Safaritova was no stranger to success prior to donning a purple-clad uniform at Weatherford Junior College either, however, she was a stranger to the United States. While it was not the first time she had been to the States, it marked the first time she spent an extended amount of time in the country.
One of the biggest obstacles Safaritova had to grapple with was the language barrier. Luckily, learning different tongues was not something foreign to her. Back home, Safaritova had become fluent in Hungarian and Slovakian, and she had learned a great deal of German as well. In order to prepare for her trip to the U.S., Safaritova took a one-month crash course in English from a Canadian teacher.
"She gave me the basics," said Safaritova. "It was still tough, though, and I needed a lot of help from the people around me. Thankfully, I was not alone on my team. We had other foreign players."
Coach Bob McKinley's squad, in addition to Safaritova, included another Slovakian and two Lithuanians.
After earning All-America honors by the National Junior College Athletic Association in her final season at Weatherford, McKinley gave TCU a call. He felt the smaller-sized private school would be the right fit for Safaritova, especially because of the location.
"I wanted to stay close to Weatherford because I had made a lot of friends there," Safaritova said. "I felt that if I went far away I would be starting all over again. Plus, some of my teammates went to bigger schools and they weren't happy there. I didn't want that to happen to me."
Still, when a player makes the jump from the junior college level to NCAA Division I, there is an adjustment period. Major college sports are treated like a business and the training and preparation that go into them are intense.
"It was a huge difference going from a junior college to TCU," explained Safaritova. "It's just a different level. Things were a lot more relaxed for me at junior college. Things at TCU reminded me a lot of what I had to do back home."
Apparently, the adjustment period did not take too long thanks to her previous training with the Slovakian Junior National Team. Safaritova scored 19 points in her first contest as a NCAA Division I student-athlete. In only her second game, she became part of TCU history when the largest crowd in school history for a men's or women's game crammed into Daniel-Meyer Coliseum to watch the Lady Frogs battle the storied six-time national champion Lady Vols of Tennessee. Although the Big Orange was too much for the Purple and White, playing in front of 7,262 screaming fans Nov. 27, 2000, was something Safaritova won't soon forget.
"It was pretty exciting," Safaritova recalled. "It was unbelievable to see that many people in the stands."
That same season, Safaritova helped lead the Lady Frogs into unchartered territory in March. TCU secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time by claiming the Western Athletic Conference Tournament crown. Entering the tourney as a No. 11 seed, no one gave TCU much of chance against Penn State, a Final Four team the year before, but when the buzzer sounded the end of the game, it was a 77-75 Lady Frog victory. And Safaritova had come up big for TCU once again with 21 points to lead all scorers.
"That was a huge accomplishment for the program," said Safaritova. "I can't even describe the feeling of being there. I was just happy to be a part of it."
Safaritova was part of what has become a trend around the university's women's hoops program these days. TCU found itself in the second round of NCAAs the following year as well. In her final collegiate game, Safaritova lit up No. 1-seeded Duke for 24 points, connecting on 5-of-10 three-pointers. Only Blue Devil All-American Alana Beard scored more points in that game.
Last season, TCU struggled through most of the regular season, but when it was tournament time, it took a 180-degree turn. The Lady Frogs became the first team in C-USA tourney history to win the title playing on four consecutive days, and for the third-straight year, they reached the second round of the Big Dance. While Safaritova wasn't a part of that squad, she followed the progress of her former team and feels TCU is on the brink of plunging even deeper into the NCAA Tournament in the near future.
"Each year, TCU keeps getting better," Safaritova stated. "Any year now could be their year to make a run. It's only a matter of time."
Perhaps Safaritova will have two things to cheer about during the spring: her final semester as an undergraduate and the Lady Frogs traveling into the innermost realms of the NCAA bracket.