When she arrived on campus the basketball coach at Penn didn't even know who she was. But just months later, Katina Banks had broken into the starting lineup en route to a record-breaking career.
In the fall of 1991 Katina Banks was a freshman at Penn — a school she had never seen until the week before classes were set to begin. New to the West Philadelphia campus, the Denver native decided to search out the women's basketball team in hopes of making the team. "I went to Gimbel Gym and asked around," she said.
She soon discovered the preseason captains' workouts and began playing against the women who would become her teammates and help shape her college life.
Her coach, Julie Soriero, now the Director of Athletics at Colorado College, remembered that she was so eager and determined to prove herself in preseason conditioning, she jumped into the pool for a water workout despite limited swimming experience. Soriero moved her to the shallow end of the pool.
Banks had been recruited as a basketball player by some small schools, but wound up choosing Penn over Stanford without visiting either. "A guy from my school went to Penn to play lacrosse and I went to a girls' lacrosse tournament in Pennsylvania. I read as much as I could and figured that the Ivy League would be a good place for me."
A four-year starter on the basketball team, she would shatter the school record for steals in a career with 208 (since broken by Diana Caramanico). Banks — who would be named to the League's weekly honor roll a number of times — became the third player in Penn history to make at least 100 career three-pointers.
"[Playing sports] was an integral part of my life," Banks says. "I was very committed to playing, committed to my teammates and committed to being an athlete. Being an athlete drove me to make decisions, both good and bad. It forced me to choose a major and drove my decision to not take a semester abroad."
Banks also played lacrosse for two seasons and earned Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week honors as a sophomore when she stopped 24 shots in goal as the Quakers shocked No. 2 Princeton, 7-6. Those Tigers would eventually advance to the national title game.
Following that sophomore season, she opted to concentrate on her basketball career and set aside the lacrosse stick. If an Ivy Defensive Player of the Week award existed in hoops, she would have been a lock to get it when she recorded an League-record 11 steals against Lafayette as a junior. After a slow start against a strong schedule her senior year, the Quakers went 8-6 in Ivy play, one of just two winning seasons for the team in a 13-season span.
"I never had a walk-on who had an impact and made a difference like Katina did," said Soriero. "She was a captain her senior year. Katina was a smart player and she knew her strength was not on the offensive end, but with her speed and anticipation on the defensive end. I was also very confident to give her the toughest defensive assignment."
Soriero remembers one play in particular which epitomized her approach, and it came in her final game at Princeton as a senior. With the score tied and Penn inbounding beneath its own basket, the Quakers tried a set play and missed the shot with the clock winding down. The rule at the time was that any play with less than three-tenths of a second remaining had to be a tip-in and grabbing the ball would have sent the game to overtime. Banks tipped in the miss as the buzzer sounded.
"I remember saying, 'Katina. We wouldn't have won if you didn't tip that instead of catching it,'" said Soriero. "And she just said, 'I know.' She was saavy enough to remember that rule in the heat of the moment in the last half-second."
After graduating with a degree in communication and a minor in political science, Banks began a career in college athletics, but soon enrolled in law school at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She graduated summa cum laude and moved back to her hometown of Denver to start her new career.
An senior associate at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Banks is an intellectual property lawyer. The focus of her practice is on trademark, copyright and unfair competition law and brand management, counseling and enforcement.
Banks is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Sam Cary Bar Association, the bar for black lawyers in Colorado. Named for a pioneering black lawyer in the state, the association is determined to provide a valuable service to the legal community. "It is primed to make a difference and has been offering scholarships to students at local law schools," Banks said.
She feels that providing support to minority students who have demonstrated a will to succeed is critically important and hopes the League's administrators and coaches agree.
"There is no question that it has to be a priority," Banks says. "When I think about my Penn experience, what I really love about it was the diverse environment. It seemed to be purposeful to have kids of different backgrounds, from different areas. When you do that, you establish a group of people who will go out and affect change and change perceptions. I can't stress how important it is to see minorities in roles uncharacteristically held by minorities."
— Brett Hoover