As Kelly Komara looked out the window of a West Lafayette hotel room Monday night, she took a deep breath and soaked in the moment.
Twelve years after graduating from Purdue, the Lake Central product was back home, joining the Boilermakers' women's basketball coaching staff.
"I thought, 'Gosh, I used to walk up and down those streets. I used to have dinner there,'" she said. "It feels so familiar ... so right. When (coach) Sharon (Versyp) called and offered me the job, it was a dream come true. It can't work out any better than when you can mix your passion and career."
Basketball has been Komara's passion for most of her 33 years. Purdue became her passion when she came to West Lafayette in 1998 and contributed to the school's national championship as a freshman. She spent time in the profession at Northwestern, Auburn, Valparaiso and Albany before the door to Mackey Arena opened with the departure of Christy Smith to her alma mater, Arkansas. Ironically, it was Smith who Komara replaced at Valpo upon Smith's move to Purdue in 2011.
"It was kind of a no-brainer for her, like it was for me," Komara said. "Typically, you want to go back to where you played, where you love, what's in your heart."
She spent time at the Women's Final Four with former Purdue coaches Nell Fortner and Carolyn Peck and '99 teammate Stephanie White. Colleagues she respected as a player then and now as a coach, they were people she contacted for advice about the job.
"The initial phone interview, I could hear it in (Versyp's) voice, her passion for the university," Komara said. "We equally share our love for Purdue. Nothing can make me happier than to represent my university again."
All along, Komara has also represented the region. She now hopes to be a bridge between the talent here and Purdue, which, for one reason or another, have not connected in recent years.
"The region produces tremendous athletes," she said. "There's a love for Purdue in Northwest Indiana. We're going to work the region really hard to find those phenomenal players and get them to take a serious look at Purdue and what we do here."
Komara is the third NWI product to play at Purdue and return as a coach. Brandon Brantley (Andrean) and Kenny Lowe (West Side) are both on the men's staff.
"It really speaks volumes to how great an outlet Northwest Indiana is for athletes," Komara said. "I see the people ahead of me who paved the way, who made the university prominent in the basketball world. It speaks volumes to … the family atmosphere there is here, the big-time names that stay in state to play and come back to it to work. If you didn't like your experience … the university, you wouldn't come back."
A whirlwind Tuesday included campus logistics like her ID and parking pass. Komara heads back to New York today to tie up loose ends and will return to Purdue to find new digs in a few weeks.
"I haven't had time to blink my eyes yet," she said. "The best part about it is I know the neighborhoods, where to go, where not to go. I hope it's a pretty quick process."
Komara has already jumped in head first on learning about the team, for which the summer will serve her well, and getting up to speed on recruiting.
As she prepares to put stakes down back at Purdue, she could see herself being there a long time.
"One of the coolest things about the assistants' jobs I've had, I've been able to piece together a philosophy, my timeline in the game, what I want to accomplish," she said. "One of my goals was to come back here and learn and see where that path leads me, whether it's here 20 years as an assistant coach or whatever."