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GETTING HER KICKS

Karima Christmas doesn't show much about herself on the surface.

You wouldn't know she's a tenacious basketball player just from looking at her, save for her 5-foot-11 stature. And you wouldn't know how much she cares about her family, and how much love she carries in her heart.

That's because she doesn't wear it on her sleeve.

She draws it on her shoes.

Doodling in what her teammates call "Karima font," Christmas has inscribed everything from initials of loved ones to meaningful quotations in creative patterns around multiple pairs of her basketball sneakers.

There, snaking around the Nike swoosh on one shoe is the word "XMAS" over and over again in reference to her last name.

And there, written on the toe of another shoe is head coach Joanne P. McCallie's oft-repeated saying, "Make the next play," a reminder to forget her past mistakes and concentrate on the task at hand.

Christmas has decorated several of her teammates' shoes over the last two years, because they say she has the best handwriting on the team. But those are more dictations than creations, as she just scribbles whatever the other players ask for.

"But mine-mine are like my own," she said. "My own meanings."

Far from her Houston home, Christmas does all she can to feel close to her family at all times.

Her older sister's initials. Her younger sister's initials. Her boyfriend's initials. Her mother's and her father's. Even her cousin, who lives with her family back home-her initials are there, too.

"This is where I was born, and this is where I live now," she said, pointing to a repeated string of the letters "LAX/HOU" on one shoe. "It's always relating to something back home."

Which explains why the first time she ever scribbled on a pair of shoes was during her freshman season, when she admitted she was homesick. Because of obligations to the basketball team, she had to miss spending Christmas at home last year. And even now, her family rarely gets to make it up to see her play.

It has been a tough experience, but gradually, she realized she had a second family she could lean on.

"That definitely helps," she said, referring to her teammates. "You're with everybody pretty much the majority of the time that you're here. We're all close, we're all doing stuff together. So it's kind of like a family here.. It was pretty good to have them around."

As a sophomore, Christmas is beginning to feel a little more at home. For one, her teammates and friends now call her "K Holiday," a nickname that originated back in Houston.

Perhaps more important, though, she's beginning to establish herself as a much bigger part of her surrogate family.

Last year, Christmas averaged 10.6 minutes per game-fourth fewest on the team-and chipped in just 4.1 points per contest.

The beginning of this season saw a slight improvement, but her confidence and contribution has increased greatly during the last several weeks.

She broke out for 14 points against Stanford in December, but Christmas' surge really started against Miami Jan. 9, when she finished with a career-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting. It should come as no surprise that both her parents were in attendance that night.

Most recently, Christmas helped Duke vanquish N.C. State in overtime Monday, registering a career-high 33 minutes and 17 points, continuing proof that she is becoming a serious threat for this squad.

But you wouldn't know just from talking to her. Even her teammates and coaches yell at her for not talking enough, she said.

There's one subject she can go on and on about, though. She will tell you about how she got to go home for Christmas this year. She saw her sisters and brother and cousin and nephew and mother and father and countless other loved ones. She talked to her older sister about coming to a game after recovering from the birth of her son. Her younger sister told her she didn't like the new school she was attending and wanted to get away for a weekend to see her play.

It's all smiles when it's about family.

But when you ask her about herself, even if it's about basketball, it's back to quiet K Holiday.

"Maybe," Christmas said, "this is my way of expressing myself-writing it on my shoes rather than speaking."

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