High scorers, hard workers sign letters
For Tyra Buss, practice doesn't end until she hits a series of shots -- from half court, the volleyball line, the 3-point arc, a free throw, an 8-foot jumper, left-handed and right-handed layups, reverse layups from each side and an alley-oop.
"It's just something I've been doing since I was little," Buss said. "It usually doesn't take me more than a couple tries [to hit the half-court shot.]"
For Ashley Kelsick, training often begins at 5:30 a.m. One of her favorite workouts starts with a half-mile run with a 45-pound bar on her back, followed -- in rapid succession -- by 80 sit-ups, 40 walking lunges with the 45-pound bar, 360 hops with a jump rope and 40 squats (no weight; her legs usually are too wobbly).
"I was so frustrated with how my career was going," Kelsick said. "I didn't think I was going to get a [college] scholarship. I was scared.
"So I turned my work ethic up. I started watching NBA and WNBA games on television, just studying the game. I went on YouTube, looking for new workouts. And I started doing everything my coaches told me."
Both girls were rewarded for their off-the-charts work ethic on Wednesday when they signed national letters of intent. Buss signed with Indiana and Kelsick signed with Boston College.
As juniors, Kelsick and Buss were two of the top three scorers in the nation. Kelsick, a 5-foot-7 combo guard at Highland (Palmdale, Calif.), led the nation with a 40.7 scoring average. Buss, a 5-7 point guard for Mount Carmel (Ill.), averaged 38.9 points last season to rank third in the country.
The nation's second-leading scorer, Victoria Vivians -- a 5-11 wing at Scott Central (Forest, Miss.) -- signed with Mississippi State on Wednesday.
Kelsick has been a varsity starter since her freshman year, when she averaged 14 points. She was solid again as a sophomore, averaging 15 points.
But solid wasn't enough for Kelsick, so she kicked her off-court work into high gear.
The result of all that work is a 140-pound basketball athlete who plays with a football mentality. She is unafraid of contact. In fact, she thrives on it.
"I'm fast to an extent," said Kelsick, who wants to study computer programming and also has an interest in communications. "But I'm stronger than I am fast."
Her training paid immediate dividends last season.
She scored 48 points -- easily her career high at the time -- in Highland's opener. Kelsick later set a career high with 54 points, reaching that number twice.
Deon Price, her club coach with Team RIENG, said Kelsick won't leave a practice until she has made 500 shots.
"She probably has nightmares that she is sleeping instead of working out," Price said. "She wants to be the best player on the floor, and she works hard whether the coach is watching or not."
Kelsick, who also considered scholarship offers from UNLV, Washington State, Hawaii and Arizona, is indeed a self-motivated player. She does not come from an athletic family, and her mother's reaction to her taking up basketball was, in essence: "Honey, do whatever makes you happy."
Buss, meanwhile, comes from a family of athletes, coaches and teachers. Her father, Tim, is the District 348 Superintendent of Schools in Illinois. Her mother, Kelly, is Mount Carmel's track coach. Her brother, Tyler, is Mount Carmel's boys' basketball coach. And her other brother, Kyle, is an assistant football coach at Gibson Southern (Fort Branch, Ind.).
But Buss, who earned Miss Illinois basketball honors for 2012-13, is surely the best athlete of the bunch, especially considering she also competes in track, tennis and cross-country.
Then again, Buss seems to be the best at just about everything. She boasts a 5.0 GPA and has never received a grade lower than an A.
Her career-best scoring game was 54 points. And she broke the state single-season scoring record with 1,285 points as a junior. She needs just 601 points as a senior to break the Illinois career scoring record.
But Buss is about more than just scoring. She averaged 6.1 steals, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists last season and impressed many when she took a charge from 6-1 star Emmonnie Henderson, who is now at Louisville, during an AAU game.
"I'm not gonna lie -- I was a little scared at first," Buss said. "But it was late in the game, and I had to do anything I could to win. When I got the call, I was too excited to notice the pain."
Buss also showed her toughness during the high school season, when she separated her left (non-shooting) shoulder during a sectional semifinal playoff game against Sullivan (Chicago).
The injury occurred in the last minute of the first half with Mount Carmel up by 12 points, and she was forced to leave the game.
"That was one of the worst pains I've ever had," Buss said. "I couldn't get up. I could feel my bone pop out of place. I didn't know if I was done."
Buss, who had 18 points at the time, willed herself back on the court for the second half. She scored 30 of her 48 points after halftime and led Mount Carmel to victory.
"I was going to play no matter what," Buss said. "I wasn't going to let my team down."