By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This was going to be Asya Bussie’s year. She was a senior, about to emerge as a star on a young West Virginia University women’s basketball team that seemed just ready to blossom as it moved into the Big 12.
Much of what coach Mike Carey planned during the off-season was built around her abilities to score, to rebound and to lead.
Then her knee blew out.
“It was really devastating from the beginning, being the second day of practice and working so hard during the summer thinking that I would lead the team. It was a big shock to me and I think the team and the coaches,” she recalled the other day, the Mountaineers season having ended prematurely in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Knee injuries have become a staple of West Virginia basketball. Women athletes more than men seem vulnerable, and those wearing the Flying WV for whatever reason are more vulnerable yet, but Bussie had no reason to expect this to happen.
Two days into practice there was a rebound. She went up with it against a practice player.
“Neither of us got it and it bounced on the floor. I went to grab it, and another practice player came up and dove for the ball and knocked me on the ground,” she recalled.
It wasn’t an instantaneous thing, not coming from the hit more from rolling over onto the leg when they went down.
There was pain as she lay there, but wasn’t sure what the problem was.
“I was in denial. I thought the pain would go away but it just got worse,” she said.
Knees are like that. You see it with athletes all the time, they go to the bench, they ice it, they may even leave on crutches, but they aren’t yet writing their season off.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘OK, I’ll be out six weeks,’” she said. “Then Coach Carey called me to the side and told that being really realistic it was not going to be six weeks; that I’d be out for the whole year.
Think for a moment of hearing that as you are about to begin you senior year. The first thing you do is go into denial, then acceptance mode.
“Finally, I just thought that maybe this was a blessing in disguise, that I wasn’t ready to play this season. It let me go for my master’s, work on my master’s. I thought everything happens for a reason, and next year might be better.”
Right … rehab is a walk in the park.
“Rehab is hard,” she said. “They try to change up the exercises so you don’t get bored doing the same thing. They’re nice and try to keep us motivated … but it’s getting boring now. I’m getting ready to start playing.”
It has been a long year, a hard one for someone who is accustomed to being on the court, not sitting alongside it. She had to change her entire approach.
“I tried to just watch the game and learn the game more, see the things I could change with my game,” she said.
“I learned to be more vocal. I could see the team needs someone to lead them, not just on the court but mentally and talking to
them,” she said, vowing that will be her role a year from now.
“I feel like I have a lot on my plate now. I have to prove to myself, to my team, to the fans. I have to take on a big responsibility and lead this team,” she said.
Leading, she agrees, may be even more important than producing, although no one can deny that tin 2011-12, when the Mountaineers went 24-10, she was the leading scorer with 12.1 points a game while averaging 6.6 rebounds a game.
“I think there needs to be a middle person between the players and coaches, someone there to help talk and motivate and put everyone on the same page,” she said.
And that is what she is aiming to become, expecting by June to be back to 100 percent and ready to play as she never has before during her final season.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.