Smiling broadly, a nurse in scrubs seated next to Jennifer Risper at a burger diner by the Vanderbilt campus recalled a time when she pulled her car out of traffic so her girls could catch the strolling former Vandy standout for an autograph.
"My kids were so excited. It meant a lot to them," she said in a second round of thanks.
Jen Risper, a WNBA player for almost 2 weeks with the Chicago Sky, nods and responds modestly before returning to conversation.
"I feel like I'm home. I'm back with my teammates and my coaches. This not working out doesn't mean it's the end of basketball or downhill from here. It's going to go uphill. It's perfect – I have a job and can live on campus and have the opportunity to work out and get better. I'm definitely excited and I hope next year the WNBA will work out again."
The job gives her flexibility and will earn extra money toward play overseas, wherever her agent can find a league that allows she and Tina Wirth to become teammates again this fall.
Officially waived on May 30, Jen says she had a hunch on May 28, the day of the Sky's preseason game with Tina's Indiana Fever that her time was nearly up.
Head Coach Steve Key asked to meet with her on Saturday in Chicago when the rest of the team was away. "He told me he was looking for more experience. There wasn't much I could do with that. He definitely thanked me. He and (Vanderbilt Assistant Coach) Lisa (Cermingnano) knew each other, and he said everything Lisa told him about me was true. He said he would be watching me play overseas but I just wasn't what he was looking for."
After the waiver, Jen flew home to California to be with family for a week before returning to her second home – Nashville – and the campus job she had applied for before the draft.
The brief time in Chicago, a learning experience, is not one she regrets.
"I wouldn't take it back. My eyes were really opened. You see everything people talk about. You're playing with girls who are 10 years older than you. It's very different from college, leaving a close-knit team and coaches who you can talk to about anything. It's not as team oriented like in college. It's just business. You're competing for a position and it's more about the individual at that level."
Meanwhile, there are weeks of running, shooting and lifting in Jen's future, not to mention the Conference Coordinator position where she will work with various camps throughout the summer. Recognizing the new Commodore squad that assembled in June with the return of last season's players and incoming freshman, there will be pickup basketball with her friends but nothing else officially.
Owning optimism and a good attitude toward the future is a personality trait that serves Jen well in her adopted city, home turf where even strangers know your name.
Risper enjoying home turf and lessons learned
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