By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
You have heard the biblical passage Isaiah 11:6.
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatted calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”
Put into women’s basketball terms, that child is Linda Stepney, a freshman point guard out of Norfolk, Va., who will lead Mike Carey’s West Virginia Mountaineers into Big East play tonight at Syracuse.
It won’t be easy for Stepney or the Mountaineers, who do not play very well at Syracuse in the vast but mostly vacant Carrier Dome, WVU having lost the past two trips there by 22 and 19 points.
But Stepney is a new face who gives the Mountaineer basketball team a new look. Her game is uptempo, exciting. She is a deft ball-handler who likes to penetrate and who can score but more likely will hit another player with a creative pass.
She also is a freshman.
“She’ll make great plays and she’ll make freshman plays,” Carey said moments before the team departed for Syracuse. “Hopefully there will be more great plays.”
Stepney understands that she is a freshman and as such faces challenges from every direction, including one she hadn’t counted on.
Prior to the season she suffered a stress fracture in her foot, one that cost her valuable practice time playing with her teammates and learning the system and that to this day bothers her, although she has managed to work her way into the lineup despite not yet being fully healed or in shape.
“I don’t think about it when I’m playing,” she said. “I just tell myself the leg doesn’t hurt.”
But her life is different because of it. Class and basketball are demanding on any freshman trying to make the difficult adjustment to life as a college athlete, but she also must get treatment every day, which takes time away from other things, and when not on the floor she wears a support and protective boot, a constant reminder that she isn’t yet healed.
Because her practice time has been limited, she is still learning her teammates and they are learning her game.
“She’s new to us,” said center Asya Bussie. “We didn’t see her in high school. She didn’t play in Europe.”
And so you aren’t really sure when she might dish you the ball or if she’ll drive to the hoop.
“When she came back she brought a lot of energy,” Bussie said. “She really didn’t miss a beat. She’s quick to drive the lane and you have to be prepared for her passes. She really sees the floor well.”
Stepney was a Top 100 high school player out of Norfolk, not far from Newport News, which was home to one of the best point guards ever at WVU, Yolanda Paige, with whom she is now being compared.
“She penetrates like Yolanda and she’s strong for a freshman like Yolanda was,” Carey said. “She sees the floor well, the way Yolanda did, and she might be even more of a scoring threat than Yolanda was as a freshman when the leg heals. Right now she can’t push off on it very well.”
The year, Stepney admits, has been a whirlwind of change.
“There’s a lot of new things, things I’m not used to,” she said of college life and college basketball. “I just have to stay focused and stay strong.”
There’s school work and practice time and travel and trips to places she’s only read about but never seen.
And there are the leadership responsibilities thrust onto a freshman but fit far better on upperclassmen. As point guard, though, you run the show.
“Linda has come in and made a statement,” Bussie said.
In a way Carey is blessed, for with Stepney’s playing time curtailed by the injury, he has sophomore Brooke Hampton, another extremely talented point guard, to also run the show. Hampton leads stability, as evidenced by 45 assists to just nine turnovers, but Stepney is more of a penetrator, giving a different look to the offense.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.