Sun rookie Buss works hard, dreams big

Mohegan — The sign has hung over Tyra Buss’ bedroom window since she was a kid.

“Work hard, dream big little girl.”

“My mom (Kelly) gave that to me, and that’s kind of been my motto that I’ve lived by,” Buss said.

And how. Buss’ resume rests on the border of ludicrous and “is she for real?”.

The Connecticut Sun rookie was a four-sport (not three) star from the small Illinois town of Mount Carmel (population 7,284). She averaged 45.8 points her senior season of high school. She was the first two-time Illinois Miss Basketball since Candace Parker. She played point guard at Indiana, started all 135 games and set several records (she averaged a nation-high 40 minutes her senior year). She led the Hoosiers to their first WNIT championship this March before a record home crowd of 13,007.

She’s also a rock star in both states, spending over an hour after each game this season signing autographs.

“People don’t understand in this part of the country that she’s a cult hero in the Midwest,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller, who recruited Buss to play at Indiana when he was the head coach. “Her list of accomplishments we could talk about for hours.

“Living still in Bloomington (Ind.), I worry that if Tyra wasn’t to make the team if I’d be allowed to eat in a Bloomington restaurant again. … That WNIT run, it will forever change (Indiana’s) program with that fanbase, and she was the centerpiece of that.”

Buss, for all of the accolades and adoration, went undrafted last month, a testament to just how dang hard it is to earn one of the 144 jobs in the WNBA. Her height (5-foot-7) and thin frame (126 pounds) worked against her.

Buss didn’t think she’d be drafted, which is fine because she’s made it a habit to defy her skeptics.

“I’ve had a lot of doubters my whole life,” Buss said during Wednesday’s Sun media day. “Going to IU, they thought I was too small, I was too little, I’m not strong enough … I scored all those points in high school because I didn’t play at a (higher) competitive level, things like that.

“I’ve just used that as motivation, just like I have since I was younger, and people didn’t think I’d be able to do the things I’ve been able to do.”

Buss was a three-time All-Big first team pick and finished with 2,364 career points, trailing only Calbert Cheaney (2,613) and Steve Alford (2,438) in Hoosiers hoop history.

And Buss still didn’t get drafted. Connecticut passed on her. The Sun selected point guard Lexie Brown in the first round and already had two other point guards coming to camp (Jessica January and Leticia Romero). He also felt they needed to draft a wing in the third round (the Sun didn’t have a second-round pick).

Miller figured Buss would be offered a better chance elsewhere given the Sun have perhaps three openings on their 12-player roster, but no one signed her. She said a few teams, like the Indiana Fever, showed some interest. She signed with the Sun on April 24.

“She had a good enough career that she deserved to be drafted,” Miller said. “Tyra is good at everything, not great at any area, other than her heart.

“You can’t measure her heart, and ultimately we all need kids like that in the WNBA.”

Connecticut has 15 players in camp with league rules preventing it from having more than that. Four players have yet to arrive — starting post Jonquel Jones, and reserves Alex Bentley (guard), Brionna Jones (center) and Romero. All four have finished their overseas commitments.

Miller said Jonquel Jones is attending to a personal matter at home in the Bahamas, and that Brionna Jones and Romero could be in camp on Saturday. Bentley will take a little more time to rest after her season in Russia.

n.griffen@theday.com

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