After a year away from playing the game she loves, Highland native Katie Hempen is getting her first taste of professional basketball along with Greek culture and cuisine. The 2011 graduate of Highland High School and 2016 Arizona State University is currently playing basketball for the Panathlitikos Sykion in Thessaloniki, Greece.
“The opportunity has been absolutely amazing,” Hempen said. “Being able to experience this country through a game that I missed last year is a blessing. I’m enjoying this beautiful country everyday. The people out here are extremely friendly, and it’s a very helping culture. The food is extremely fresh, so it’s been easy finding great food. I am trying to learn the language out here. It’s very hard, but I think I’ll know quite a few things before I leave here.”
Hempen is currently living with two other Americans. Micaella Riche, a University of Minnesota grad, and Raven Bankston, a Towson University grad. Hempen and Riche will remain in Greece through at least April 30, 2018.
Hempen’s conference plays games every Sunday. Panathlitikos finished sixth last year in the conference out of 12 teams.
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Panathlitikos won its first game, 57-54, over OlympiakosVolou on Oct. 15. Hempen, a 5-foot-9 guard, hit two 3-pointers and scored eight points to go with two rebounds and one assist. Riche, who is a 6-2 forward, led the way to the victory with a strong double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
On Oct. 22, Panathlitikos only lost by four points, 84-80 to PAOK, which is expected to finish third in the overall standings. Hempen finished with 14 points and sank 5 of 7 free throws. She also had two assists and one rebound. Riche contributed another double-double with 15 points and 14 boards.
Then last Saturday, Panathlitikos lost another close one, this time falling 65-61 to Faros Keratsiniou. Hempen had her biggest game yet as she pumped in 17 points, including sinking all six of her free throws. She also had two assists and two rebounds. Riche finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
“They (PAOK and Faros Keratsiniou) both are great and respected programs out here,” Hempen said. “I believe we are right at their level of play. The team I am on is one of the younger teams in our conference. If I continue to play ball, I’ll make that decision a little later into this year. Currently, I’ve missed the game so much. So if given another opportunity to keep playing, I will. I would love to travel the world to play basketball.”
In her personal life, Hempen is engaged to former Arizona State women’s soccer player Devin Marshall. The date for their wedding is set for June 23, 2018.
Hempen said that their current long-distance relationship is not tough.
“With both of us being college athletes, we understand the busyness of a schedule,” Hempen said. “She’ll be coming out for Christmas for a couple of weeks. That will be an awesome time and experience to show her this beautiful country.”