CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite playing in the post, where physicality is a necessity and contact is constant, Asya Bussie had not suffered a significant injury during a basketball career that led her to West Virginia University.So, Bussie did not know what to expect when she tore the anterior cruciate (ACL) and medial collateral ligaments (MCL) in her left knee last year."My initial thought was, 'This hurts really bad, but I will be fine,' but the pain got worse as the time went on," said Bussie, a 6-foot-4 senior center whose season-ending injury occurred in October 2012 when she jumped for a rebound during the team's second practice. "Even though it hurt, I thought I would be able to get back on the court in a week or two."WVU Coach Mike Carey knew better.
"I have been through enough ACLs and MCLs, so there was no doubt in my mind what it was," said Carey, who enters his 13th season with the Mountaineers with a 244-141 record. "It wasn't our normal team doctor or surgeon (who examined her knee). He looked at her knee, and he told her straight up she had torn her ACL and MCL. She was very upset."Carey pulled Bussie aside and consoled her. He still remembers their conversation."Is there not a pill I can take so I can still play?" Carey remembers Bussie asking him. "She had never been injured before, so she had no clue what to expect. I told her, 'No, there is nothing like that. You will be out a year, and you will have to have surgery, but it will be OK. We will get a medical hardship, and you can come back and play next year.' We just had to explain it to her and make her realize it would be OK."Bussie will make her long-awaited return at 5:30 p.m. Friday, when WVU opens its season at home against Ohio State."It was really difficult just sitting out and not being able to help my team," said Bussie, who is one of only 15 players in school history with more than 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. "I'm just really excited to be back out there on the court and be back out there with the team. I think we are going to have a great season. We are excited to get started."Bussie said facing the Buckeyes in the season opener makes it even better."They are a great team," said Bussie, who has 1,044 points, 581 rebounds, 199 blocks and 122 steals in her 103-game career. "I like to start off against a good team because it lets us see where we are and how we can improve."The Mountaineers were picked to finish third in the Big 12 Conference, which is too low in Bussie's opinion."I think we are a lot better than that," said Bussie, who also could not believe WVU was not ranked in the preseason top 25. "We have a lot to prove this year. Our goal is to win the Big 12 championship and make the NCAA Tournament."Carey said the Big 12 is the top-ranked conference based on RPI ratings. WVU had a 17-14 overall record and 9-9 conference mark last season, its first in the Dallas-based league."Not having her in crucial times, when we needed her to get a big score on offense or make a big play on defense, really hurt us last season," Carey said. "She is one of the best defensive centers in the country, and we missed that in critical times last year."
Bussie and senior guard Jess Harlee will serve as the Mountaineers' co-captains for the third consecutive season. Incidentally, Harlee also is returning from an ACL tear, although she appeared in 29 games before it happened."She is such a leader on and off the floor for our team," Carey said of Bussie. "She motivates the team. She is not so much a rah-rah kind of leader. She leads by her actions."Bussie and Harlee are two of the Mountaineers' five seniors. The others are guards Christal Caldwell, Brooke Hampton and Taylor Palmer.Caldwell (772 points) and Palmer (755 points) have an opportunity to join Bussie in the 1,000-point club, giving the Mountaineers plenty of options on offense.Other key contributors for the Mountaineers are junior forward Averee Fields, junior forward Crystal Leary, junior guard Linda Stepney, sophomore guard Darius Faulk and sophomore guard Bria Holmes."We are looking forward to the season," Carey said. "We have a chance to be pretty good."