Saying that "… my body can't handle it anymore," Kansas State's Shalee Lehning has notified the Atlanta Dream that she is retiring from the Women's National Basketball Association. Calling it "a wonderful three years," Lehning said of her professional career, "I made so many friends and connection, plus was able to play at the highest level of basketball against the best to ever play the game. I was an experience of a lifetime."
Lehning, who is in her third year as an assistant K-State basketball coach, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee 18 games into the 2011 season. The former Wildcat All-American had knee surgery in August, but an infection and the replacement of a screw in her knee stopped her rehabilitation process.
"I wasn't going to be cleared to run until March, so there was going to be no way I was going to be ready to play in June," said Lehning of the start of the 2012 WNBA season.
While Lehning has officially retired from playing in her mind, the Dream has left the door open for her return by "suspending" her contract, which means the Atlanta franchise keeps the rights to her for another season should she opt to return.
"I appreciate everything that the Dream has done for me, but the injuries have taken part of the enjoyment out of basketball," said the 25-year-old Lehning, who also suffered a fourth-degree left shoulder separation late in her rookie season in 2009. "I'm excited to go full force into my coaching career and focus entirely on one career."
In Lehning's three WNBA seasons, Atlanta advanced to the playoffs each year, which included making it to the championship series in each of the last two seasons. In her 85-game career, the second-round draft choice averaged 3.1 points, 3.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game.
In joining Deb Patterson's staff three years ago, Lehning said at the time, "I have the best of both worlds. I'm doing what I've dreamed about my whole life. I'm still able to play in the WNBA, and now I'm being paid to coach the game. It's a fun time in my life. I hope it can go for as long as it can."
Her career has now gone as long as it can. Lehning was a four-year first-team All-Stater while playing for Sublette High School in western Kansas from 2002-2005. Her 2,510 all-time points rank fourth in Kansas prep history, while she's first in all-time rebounds (1,336), assists (804) and steals (543).
As a junior and senior, Sublette went 26-0 winning Class 2A state titles each year. In her senior season Lehning averaged an amazing 30.6 points, 15.0 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 5.3 steals per game in earning Kansas Miss Basketball honors.
Playing four seasons at K-State from 2005-06 to 2008-09, the Wildcats won 90 games, which included a Big 12 title in 2008.
Her 800 all-time assists ranks first in KSU history and second in the Big 12. She's also fourth in career KSU rebounds with 914 and 19th in scoring with 1,189 points. She became the first player in league history to record at least 1,000 points, 900 rebounds and 800 assists.
A two-time first-team All-Big 12 performer and honorable mention All-American, Lehning also earned Academic All-American honors. For all of this, her No. 5 jersey hangs from the rafters in Bramlage Coliseum alongside the retired jerseys of Nicole Ohlde, Kendra Wecker, Tammie Romstad and Priscilla Gary.
After Lehning's rookie season in the WNBA, she received an unexpected call from Patterson, who was issuing an invitation to join her K-State coaching staff, with the understanding that she could continue her WNBA career.
"There was no decision to make," said Lehning. "This is where my heart is. I just asked, ‘When do you want me to start? I'll be there.' "