One whirlwind and eventful summer later, Kayte Christensen remains the toast of the town. Make that two towns.

Although the former UCSB women’s basketball star and 2001-02 Big West Player of the Year will never don the blue and gold of the Gauchos again, Christensen displayed her unique tenacity and competitiveness to the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

Christensen enjoyed a fine rookie season with the Mercury while becoming the only third-round pick of the 2002 draft to survive the entire season. If you want to talk about survival of the fittest, Christensen’s name will be right at the top.

“Kayte’s tremendously competitive,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “That, combined with her work ethic, has led to her success.”

Christensen more than survived: She thrived. The 6’3″ forward ranked an impressive sixth in the entire WNBA in field goal percentage at 50.5 percent. She also ranked eighth in offensive rebounds per 40 minutes with 3.8 and 16th in steals per 40 minutes with 2.32.

“Kayte’s always been a great shooter, a high percentage shooter, so that didn’t surprise me at all,” French said.

Perhaps soon, Christensen will be able to create a niche for herself in the top professional women’s league in the world. One of the top adjustments the Alturas, California native acknowledges that she has worked on and will need to improve on is her versatility.

“This past season, for the first time, I played the three, the four and the five,” Christensen said. “I never played the three before in my career. What’s going to benefit me is to become a more versatile player.”

Christensen, who started two games, averaged 4.0 points and grabbed 2.7 rebounds a night while logging 13.8 minutes per game. She scored career highs of 11 points and eight boards against the Miami Sol on July 3.

Even though Phoenix endured an 11-21 mark, Cynthia Cooper’s surprise resignation early in the year, a star player’s arrest and a 14-game road losing streak, Christensen still found plenty to enjoy in the WNBA.

“I liked the traveling because I’m in my last year of college, and I’m on the road basically the entire season,” she said. “You get to know the people on the other teams when you go to the cities and go out with them. It’s much different from college.”

A surprising facet of the pro game that Christensen adjusted to quickly involved the lack of practice time during the rugged season that starts in May and ends in mid-August.

“After training camp, it’s basically non-stop playing games with hardly any practice at all. It’s a completely different change … I think as a younger player I didn’t like not practicing as much because I feel I get better during practice.”

Now that 2002 is over, Christensen will wrap up two quarters of school before trying to help the Mercury reach the playoffs in 2003 while solidifying her niche in the WNBA. For a tenacious role player who has beat the odds since making the opening game roster, Kayte Christensen sees herself playing basketball for a long time.

“I can definitely see myself doing this for a little bit longer,” Christensen said. “I could maybe see myself doing this for 10 years. I don’t know.”

What we do know is that Christensen will work hard with whatever she wants to do.