Feb. 13, 2001
by Lisa Nelson
Two years ago, Irish senior forward Hans Rasmussen seemed to have
it all. He was on a full scholarship playing Division I basketball at the
University of Notre Dame. He met the love of his life in fellow Notre Dame
student Kelly Potter. He was receiving an excellent education and preparing
himself for what looked to be a prosperous future. But some how, some way,
something went wrong terribly wrong.
During his sophomore season, Rasmussen and his Irish teammates
traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, for the Great Alaska Shootout. After seeing
limited minutes against Yale, Vanderbilt and Duke in Alaska, and only 25
minutes total during the first five games of the season, Rasmussen used the
16 hours of flight time from the land of the midnight sun to think.
He thought about how much he missed his family and the Pacific Northwest.
He thought about how his academic load was bogging him down. He thought
about how people wanted him to be a big star on the basketball court by
scoring 30 points a night and grabbing 20 rebounds a game, and how hard it
was to do that considering he hadn't even played 30 minutes all season. Try
as he might, he just couldn't stop thinking.
Once back in South Bend, Rasmussen decided to meet with then-head
coach John MacLeod and tell him what he thought. The meeting with MacLeod
didn't go as Rasmussen had hoped and he quit the team - casting his
scholarship, his education and possibly the love of his life aside, along
with his dream of playing Division I basketball.
Rasmussen came to Notre Dame as somewhat of a project. After
playing only 10 minutes his entire sophomore season at Central Catholic
High School in Portland, Ore., Rasmussen committed himself to getting
bigger and better. Standing 6-8, but weighing only 175 pounds, Rasmussen
joined forced with his AAU coach, Howard Avery, and his high school coach,
Steve Halligan, in developing himself as a Division I basketball player.
"The coaches knew I had potential. I started to spend six to eight
hours a day in the gym working with my coaches trying to improve,"
"I would work out wearing a weight vest, jumping rope and improving
my agility. I improved my vertical jump from 11.5 inches my sophomore year
to over 31 inches my senior year."
The hard work paid off as Rasmussen was named an honorable mention
Street & Smith All-American after averaging 15.2 points and a school record
9.5 rebounds a game as a senior. His AAU team won the Oregon state
championship his junior and senior seasons and Rasmussen was selected to
play in the Coca Cola All-Star Game at the Joyce Center, but suffered a
broken shinbone and could not compete.
MacLeod decided to take a chance on this self described "late
bloomer" and offered a basketball scholarship to Rasmussen. The youngest of
three children, Hans followed a long line of athletes in his family as his
father Larry played basketball at Idaho, his sister Kari played hoops at
Cal-Irvine and his other sister Lissa won the Idaho state cross country
So why would Rasmussen throw all of his hard work and his dreams
away so quickly?
"After I quit the team, I was walking back to my dorm room and
people were stopping me and asking how my trip to Alaska was and how they
watched the games," Rasmussen said.
"I knew right then I had made a terrible mistake, but I was too
young and immature to go back and tell Coach MacLeod I was sorry and we
could work this out. I thought by going home and being with my parents,
things would be better."
Rasmussen left Notre Dame and returned to the safe haven of his
parents' home in Portland. Deciding he needed a break to figure out what he
was going to do with his life and where he was going to play basketball
next, Rasmussen went to work as a foreman in his father's factory. He had
gone from being a Division I athlete and earning a great education at Notre
Dame to working nine hours a day in the construction industry.
"I would come home dead tired from working all day and I would talk
to Kelly on the phone. She would talk about how great her day was and how
much fun she was having. She tried to be really supportive, but she knew
how miserable I was being away from Notre Dame.
"My parents didn't really understand either because here I had just
quit the basketball team and left a place I said I was so miserable at. But
then I felt even worse when I was back home."
Not a big fan of the college recruiting process while in high school,
Rasmussen made an early decision to attend Notre Dame. Now that he was a
free agent again, the phone calls and visits from coaches poured in, but
Rasmussen just wanted it all to end and decided to play basketball at the
University of Portland.
"It was a quick decision and not the right one," Rasmussen said.
"Portland was a small Notre Dame. It was hard to be there and see
the same type of catholic education and athletic tradition as Notre Dame,
only on a smaller scale, and realize that I could still be there."
Something else happened after Rasmussen returned home. Back in
South Bend, Kelly was diagnosed with a form a cancer called Hodgkins
disease. Although curable if detected in its early stages, Kelly had quite
a battle ahead of her and Rasmussen was over 2,000 miles away.
"Everything bad that could happen to me did, but what happened to
Kelly put everything into perspective. I realized that playing time, points
and rebounds really weren't important at all. The only thing that brought
me true happiness was family and friends. That is when I realized I should
be back at Notre Dame," Rasmussen said.
Never playing a minute at Portland, Rasmussen decided he needed to
correct the wrong he had made only a few months earlier and returned to
Notre Dame in January of 2000. This time, though, he was not coming back as
a basketball player, but as a person.
"My dad asked me what my number one reason for coming back to Notre Dame
was. I told him I wanted to finish my education and finish what I had
started. I was taught never to quit."
He also wanted to come back and be closer to Kelly who had successfully
fought the Hodgkins disease, but soon would be hit with another medical
hardship. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer this time and once again
would have to go through radiation treatments to slay the latest dragon to
touch both of their lives.
Rasmussen had one more dragon he needed to face. He desperately
wanted to rectify what went wrong on the basketball court only a year
earlier. Gone was MacLeod from the Irish program, so Rasmussen visited his
replacement - new head coach Matt Doherty. Not totally aware what happened
with Rasmussen, Doherty gave him the opportunity to admit his mistake, show
how he had grown as a person over the past year and ask for a chance to
come back and don the Irish uniform once again.
Convinced that Rasmussen had his mind in the right place, Doherty
said he had to go to the ultimate decision makers - the team Rasmussen had
deserted only 12 months earlier and ask what they thought. They welcomed
Rasmussen back with open arms and Doherty gave him a second chance - but
this time as a walk-on.
"I was worried about what the guys thought. I really didn't talk to
any of them once I left the team. I heard from Martin Ingelsby once, but I
wasn't sure what they were going to say," Rasmussen said.
After missing the first seven games of the 2000-01 season due to
NCAA transfer rules, Rasmussen was able to once again wear his Irish jersey
and take the Joyce Center floor against Vermont, playing one minute. Thus
far this season, he has seen action in two games, scoring two points in
five minutes. The statistics are not that much different from his sophomore
year, but the person is.
"I felt awful when I left the first time. I went from everyone's
hero to nobody's friend in a matter of a few months. That teaches you some
things," Rasmussen said.
"If I was a sophomore, I would probably be disappointed I am not
playing more. But I am senior and an adult now. I understand what Coach
(Mike) Brey is going through and I would play my five starters 40 minutes
too if I was in his position."
"Plus, we are a much better team now. I am just happy to put on the
uniform every game and if Coach Brey needs me, I will be ready."
"Although he has not played much this season, Hans is ready to do
whatever we need of him," Brey said.
"He is just so happy to be back at Notre Dame and has a great
attitude of doing whatever he can to help this team."
Brey has recognized what Rasmussen has been through over the past
two years and has rewarded that positive attitude with a scholarship for
the spring semester so Rasmussen can graduate with a degree in management
>from the Mendoza College of Business.
But for now, Rasmussen is thankful that he was given a second
chance - a second chance at Notre Dame, a second chance to play basketball
and most importantly a second chance with Kelly.
"This time around I appreciate everything a lot more. I appreciate
the beauty of the campus, the quality of the professors and my education. I
appreciate the guys on the team more, stepping in to the uniform, hearing
the crowd cheer. All the little things that you take for granted while you
here, can all be gone with one wrong decision.
"When I first arrived at Notre Dame, I didn't act like an adult.
But anytime you go through life altering changes, meet somebody you love,
like Kelly, and see that person go through what she has gone through in
battling cancer twice, you don't take anything for granted. God has a plan
for all of us. For me, it was to get my education, meet Kelly and get that