Melody Kempton can’t remember the day she first started playing basketball. Her dad, who played in high school, always encouraged it and eventually, she moved from the small plastic hoop in the driveway to a real court.
Now, Kempton is a sophomore forward on the Gonzaga women’s basketball team while majoring in human physiology. She decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps and pursue a medical career.
Hailing from Post Falls, Idaho, family is a constant in her life. Not only do they support her at every game, but she travels home to visit them at least once a week. Their bond is evident in the stands of GU home games. Her parents, two younger brothers, both sets of grandparents and close friends from out of town fill seats in The Kennel.
“The camera will always find them because they’re in a group and they’re all wearing [No.] 33 jerseys,” Kempton said. “I just always know they’re going to be there and it’s such a great support system.”
Part of the reason Kempton chose to attend GU was because of its proximity to Post Falls and her younger brothers, who are 2 and 9 years old. Being so close to home gives her the opportunity to watch them grow up and be part of their lives.
It also allows her to bring home friends and teammates during breaks in the semester.
“I actually tried to bring all of the freshmen [on the team] home with me for an early Thanksgiving dinner,” Kempton said.
That family-type atmosphere prevails on the court, where the Zags operate with ball movement in hopes of accomplishing team-oriented goals together. It's a collective unselfishness that extends to the entire Zag community, Kempton said.
“The students are just nice,” Kempton said. “[There is] nowhere else you’ll go where people will hold the door for you when you’re like 10 steps away.”
Before coming to GU, Kempton played varsity basketball all four years of high school, but missed a year during middle school when she had appendicitis.
In her early years of the sport, her jersey number was 00. That changed to 21 in middle school and changed again to 33 in high school. Like many athletes, Kempton's number owns an origin story. Her best friend’s older sister wore No. 33, which influenced her decision.
Nearly finished with her third semester of college, Kempton said it's been difficult balancing academics, basketball and social life.
“It’s been really tough, but I feel like now I’m starting to kind of get the hang of it,” Kempton said.
Since the beginning of her freshman season, Kempton said she's become a stronger athlete. Those close to her have taken notice.
“They’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, you look like really big now,'" Kempton said. "I’m like, ‘Should I take that in a nice way? I think that’s supposed to be a compliment.'"
Along with her newfound strength, Kempton is emerging as a stout defender. She is not afraid to be physical with bigger opponents, despite standing a bit undersized at 6 feet, 1 inch. She is also counted on for rebounding and finishing around the basket.
“She’s doing great and doing everything that we’ve asked her to do so far,” head coach Lisa Fortier said.
Senior guard Jessie Loera has a lengthy connection with Kempton. The two have been playing against each other for years in AAU tournaments and All-Star games.
“That’s probably why we’re so close now, on the court and off the court,” Loera said. “She’s a phenomenal player.”
When she is not busy bettering herself as an athlete or human physiology student, Kempton enjoys water skiing and surfing. She takes any chance she gets to surf from the back of a lake boat.
During GU's team retreat in late September, it was unusually cold and rainy. However, Kempton didn’t hesitate to bring up the idea of surfing. Everyone else was grabbing blankets to go for a ride on the boat, but she had no regrets in her decision, even without a wetsuit.
“Actually, the water was warmer than the air,” Kempton said. “So, like when you’re up, it was kind of miserable but if you fell back down, [it was OK].”
Kempton still has over two years to create experiences like those and advance the program as it continues to strengthen its national reputation.
“I see big things for Gonzaga,” Kempton said. “I’m so blessed to just be here. I just can’t even begin to comprehend the blessing.”