By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Once Big 12 play comes around for West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team, Asya Bussie is going to have to stand tall for the Mountaineers, which she should have no trouble doing.
She stands, after all, 6-feet, 4-inches.
That, of course, helps on a basketball court, but what does it do for – or to – a woman in society, especially a society where people who are different often are ridiculed or ostracized.
“It’s never been a problem,” Bussie said prior to Wednesday night’s game with Delaware State at the Coliseum.
It certainly isn’t that people don’t notice. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“People are always saying, ‘You’re so tall, you should be a model,’ or, ‘You’re so tall, do you play basketball?’ I get a lot of questions, but it’s not too weird for me,” she said.
The truth is that Bussie has the looks that could lead her into modeling, but that isn’t in her head right now.
“I don’t think I would (go into modeling),” she said. “I’d rather play basketball.”
Maybe until last year she didn’t realize how much she wanted to play the sport.
Oh, she knew how good she was. By her junior season, she had earned first-team All-Big East honors and become the 28th women’s player to score more than 1,000 career points and the 15th to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
Her senior year, however, was delayed in a way she did not want, injuring her knee badly enough to require surgery and forcing her to take a medical redshirt.
All of a sudden she was a kid without Christmas, an artist without paint, chef without a stove.
“When I sat out, I realized how much I really loved the game. When something is taken away from you, you realize how much you really appreciate it,” she said.
She not only realized just how important basketball was in her life, but she also realized how fragile such things are.
“Last year also made me think, what do I do if it was taken away for good? I’d just have to be a businesswoman and get into the professional side,” she said.
And she certainly isn’t ready for that.
It was a difficult season, being a senior redshirt, especially going through rehabilitation while her teammates and friends were playing and sitting on the bench, watching them go through a difficult year, the Mountaineers first in the Big 12.
WVU finished just 17-14, 9-9 in conference play, and was eliminated by Delaware in the first round of the NCAA, their fourth consecutive loss to end the season.
“It was hard, seeing them have the season they had,” Bussie admitted. “It wasn’t a bad season, but I was just wishing I could help, but I knew I wasn’t in the position to help.”
As hard as it was watching, emotionally she wasn’t torn apart because she understood her situation.
“If I was actually healed to the point I could play and was sitting out, that would have been harder. I knew I couldn’t do anything, even if I wanted to go out there,” she said.
In truth, harder than adapting to not playing basketball was adapting to doing her academics without basketball. Bussie had always been good in the classroom, and perhaps one of the reasons was that basketball gave her something to take her mind off it.
Now, things were different without basketball.
“It was harder to stay focused,” she explained. “My whole life I’ve been playing basketball and going to school. It broke my whole routine. It was hard to focus just on school because I was depressed, I was sad, I was hurt.”
Now, her life is back in order.
She has a degree and basketball; she kept a vow she made to herself.
“I wasn’t scared about coming back because I told myself this wasn’t going to keep me from playing. I was going to pick up where I left off,” she said.
And that is just what Bussie has done, averaging 13 points and 7.8 rebounds a game while playing 26 minutes per contest, a figure that figures to go up once the Mountaineers get into league play.
“As we get deeper into the season, I know my role will increase, and I will have to be the leader and more demanding,” she said.
Coach Mike Carey wants her to start shooting more inside, knowing in conference play she won’t be facing the defenses she has seen during the non-conference where she has had to deal with two and three defenders.
He believes the Big 12 will feel their centers can deal with Bussie and will concentrate more on WVU’s outside shooting, but if Bussie can burn them inside, it will change that thinking.
“If she scores it will open things for everyone,” Carey said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.