Only two months ago Katie Borowicz was a Roseau High School senior, eager to play basketball but worried the coronavirus pandemic would make that difficult, if not impossible.
It was a week before the Nov. 11 signing day, when Borowicz was going to make official her intent to play for the Gophers women's basketball team. She was on a FaceTime call with Lindsay Whalen, her future coach, who asked a question. Something like this:
Do you think it would be crazy if you graduated early and came to play with the Gophers right away?
"I was like, 'Is that a thing?' " Borowicz said Wednesday.
Borowicz was on a Zoom call with reporters after a practice at Williams Arena where she and her Gophers teammates will host Maryland on Thursday. It will be the third game of her college career, coming days after she made her on-court debut against Penn State.
This is a basketball rarity. We've seen many players in, say, college football, who have graduated early — in time to enroll and take part in spring practice.
But an unusual set of events triggered Borowicz's move. First, it appeared the NCAA was on the verge of granting a waiver saying anyone competing this season wouldn't lose a year of eligibility, which ultimately happened. That meant Borowicz could join the Gophers midseason and still be a freshman with four years left this fall.
And Borowicz had to be willing — and able — to make the move.
She talked with her family. Her friends. Her high school coaches. Her teammates. Borowicz, a four-star recruit ranked in the top 100 in her class in the nation by ESPN, had been playing varsity basketball since seventh grade. She'd been a starter for Roseau the past three years, been a three-time Class 2A all-state selection. She and her two older sisters had built a legacy with that program.
"But I thought, I've been playing basketball, playing up grades, to get to college, to be the best player I can be," she said. "Everyone thought it was a good idea. But it was still super hard. But with COVID-19, with all the unknowns, it helped me with my decision."
Because of foul trouble and injuries to teammates, Borowicz played 16 minutes against Penn State on Sunday.
She entered the game with about six minutes left in the first quarter.
"I was so nervous," she said. "I was on the bench and it was like, 'Katie, go in.' I whipped my mask and warmup shorts off and I was in."
"Kid went out there and took an NBA three on the first possession," Whalen said. "That shows a lot of moxie. That's what you want. Now, you want it to go in [it didn't]. But we're working on that. But what's not to like about someone going in and doing something like that? I wasn't that fearless at that point in my life."
In fact, Borowicz ended up 1-for-7 overall, 0-for-5 on threes, with two points and two assists. Long after the game was over, she climbed back onto the Williams Arena court and spent about a half-hour putting up shots.
The experience, even in a loss, was further proof to Borowicz that she made the right decision.
And that it was worth the work. Once she was focused on early graduation, Borowicz had to spend weeks with extra classes. In a remote learning environment, she was at the table studying from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days.
"I grinded those classes," she said.
Now she's at the university, rooming with fellow freshmen Erin Hedman and Caroline Strande and transfer Kayla Mershon. She is learning the Gophers playbook during practices longer than she can ever remember in high school. She has yet to start classes at the U but is confident there, too.
When Borowicz first joined the Gophers right after the new year, she spent the first few practices doing individual work before jumping into full practice. It is an adjustment, but having played high-level AAU basketball helped.
In this deal the Gophers got immediate depth at point guard, a guard with good floor vision. Long term? The experience Borowicz gets the rest of this season — even if most of it comes in practice — will serve her well.
"It's just getting in the weight room, on the court, guarding [Jasmine} Powell and [Alexia] Smith, getting to know the routines of how you do things," Whalen said. "She will have been through all the firsts by the time she comes back next year."
It was a sacrifice, but Borowicz said it has been worth it.
"I'm loving it," she said. "I love the challenge, playing with better [players], against better [players]. They didn't tell me I'd get playing time. It was just, come here and we'll see what happens. I'm already having a Big Ten experience. It's all worth it."