Tulsa, Okla. – A Tuesday afternoon WNBA game at the BOK Center between the Tulsa Shock and Atlanta Dream was more than just a game. It was a homecoming of sorts, even though it took place nearly 400 miles away from home for Atlanta guard and former Kansas State standout Shalee Lehning. Around 100 people from the small farming community of Sublette, Kansas made the nearly six-hour drive to Tulsa to cheer on their hometown hero, and they were not alone.
They were joined by a large group from Manhattan, Kansas who wore their purple proudly. By game time, section 120 of the BOK Center, located directly behind the Atlanta bench, had transformed into a giant cheering section in support of Lehning.
Among the many members of her family, friends and fans in attendance were her parents, Steve and Jane Lehning. “This is our first road game since it is so close to Sublette,” said Steve who works in the natural gas field back home. “She’s got a great following and is really blessed because the people are really great in Sublette,” said Jane, who works as a high school teacher in the town of about 1,200 in Southwestern Kansas.
“I think everybody is just so excited that Tulsa is pretty close,” said Shalee after the Dream’s 105-89 win over the Shock – she finished with nine points and six assists. “It’s about six hours from my hometown, but that’s close to people because in Atlanta I’m 16 hours away. Everybody was so excited when they heard that Tulsa got a team, because they knew it was a reasonable distance that they could drive,” she added.
“I have a feeling that every time I play in Tulsa from here on out there is going to be a pretty good following.”
Lehning’s parents are no strangers at her games, they estimate that they have seen over 20 games since she was drafted by the Dream in the second round of the 2009 draft. They were also regulars in Manhattan where Shalee had her jersey retired as a senior and became the first player in Big 12 history to record 1,000 career points, 900 career rebounds and 800 career assists.
“The fans there (Kansas State) are the most supportive, and not just for Shalee,” said Jane. “They show win or lose, they are one reason why she is who she is, because they loved her and she loved them.”
“The support they’ve (fans) shown me at Kansas State and now in Atlanta, it’s awesome because it gets to be a long season,” said Shalee. “To be able to get this excited, knowing that I have all of this support here at a game is a humbling experience and I’m very appreciative.
Lehning admitted that the large turnout got her pumped up for the game, but when it was game time it was business as usual. “I was definitely a little more excited. My adrenaline was pumping more because I knew a lot of people were here, but the moment I stepped on the court I forgot about it and I was trying to do my job,” she said. “I think I have the same mindset before every game.
Shalee displayed the desire and drive that made her a star in high school, college and now in the WNBA at an early age. Instead of watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, she was dribbling her basketball and practicing her shot. “I would get so mad at her because she would knock the plaster off of the ceiling where she was laying in her bed doing her shot,“ Steve said with a laugh.
She played football and basketball against the other kids in her neighborhood, many of them boys, including her older brother Matt, who played college football for the University of Wyoming. “The boys would be in the back yard with our basketball goal and Shalee was so short,” said Jane. “They never gave her an inch. She would be dribbling the ball and Matt would tell her to find a way to get to the basket. She would work her way around him and she did.”
Lehning also put in many nights at the recreation center in Sublette, most of the time shooting her hoops against the guys. Older sister Andrea was also a standout athlete, and ran track at Emporia State. “The neighborhood kind of made her into the player that she is,” said Jane. Steve agreed and added that her siblings also played a big role in her development. “They gave her the foundation of what it was like to play sport and to be successful and Shalee now has taken it to the next level,” he said.
He referred to Shalee’s fans and friends through the years as their “K-State family and Sublette family. “Those type of people made Shalee who she is today, so to be able to play in Tulsa, close to our homes, made It good for everybody.”
“She’s the culmination of a lot of people. People in Sublette have been good to her and have made her into the humble person that she is,” he said.