IU women's basketball head coach Curt Miller has wanted Tyra Buss ever since he got to IU. When she committed to IU last year, he tweeted, “My family loves to put together puzzles…My Dad likes to yell out when he finds an important piece…I know how he feels today.”
When she walked onto the court at Gibson Southern on Saturday, Tyra Buss looked up to see no empty seats. People who couldn’t find a seat worked on finding a place to settle in and stand. Approximately 4,000 people crammed into the small southern Indiana gym, and they were all there to see her.
The IU women’s basketball signee from Mt. Carmel, Ill., needed just three points to break the Illinois high school girls’ basketball all-time scoring record.
Given that Buss, the nation’s leading scorer, is averaging 47.4 points per game, they knew it would come quickly.
Friends and people around her and had been betting on how she would break the record. After her junior year, she had already broken the state record for free throws made in a career. Some thought that’s how the senior would do it.
At the very beginning of the game, she immediately knocked two in from the line. She had tied Brittany Johnson’s 4,031 career points.
Her best friend on the team told her she wanted to make the record-breaking assist to her. She wanted to be part of her friend’s history.
But Buss wasn’t thinking about the record. That’s not the way she plays. She thinks about winning, not scoring points. Even after a heavy snow storm last year during winter break, she stomped through the snow to make her way to the gym to get shots up. Basketball is her biggest passion.
So instead of thinking through a creative way to break the record, she simply played the game. She pulled up in front of her defender, and drained a 3-point shot.
Buss will be joining Larryn Brooks, pictured here, next year at IU. Brooks has led IU to its best start in program history this year.
The lucky people who had found a seat, including IU women’s basketball head coach Curt Miller, rose to their feet. The game stopped. Her teammates hugged her.
Buss wanted to keep going. She was in a game – and a close game, at that. She was going against the next person she’s working on to join her at IU, 2016 guard Jackie Young from Princeton, Ind.
But then she looked up and saw all the people – the most people she has ever played in front of – and saw them all standing and clapping. All for her.
“It was just – it was something special,” Buss said. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
Growing up, Buss watched Brittany Johnson play at East Richland. She remembers as a grade school student going to Mt. Carmel games when East Richland, located in Olney, Ill., about 45 minutes from Mt. Carmel, played the Lady Aces.
She never met her, but she admired her. Johnson was a scoring machine. And she left in 2007 as the only girl in Illinois high school girls’ basketball history to score 4,000 points. No one else had even come close.
A big reason Buss chose IU is because she said it feels like a family. She said everyone on the current team, such as sophomore forward Kaila Hulls pictured here, have made her feel comfortable.
Johnson broke Angie Sapp’s record of 3,403 that was set in 1993. At the end of her junior year, Buss had already scored 3,431.
While Buss said she had never really thought about breaking Johnson’s record when she was a young girl, watching her play certainly left an impression on her.
And now, she’s broken the record of that phenom she watched as a little girl.
“It’s kinda crazy that I beat a girl I’ve been watching ever since I was in grade school,” Buss said.
She didn’t feel any pressure Saturday before the game, despite the crowd and the waiting-to-be-broken record. She gets asked about pressure a lot, she says. But when she’s on the court, she never feels it.
“I just love to play basketball,” she said. “It’s my passion.”
And it’s a passion that she has dominated ever since her freshman year at Mt. Carmel. She’s already got her name all up and down almost every scoring record in the state of Illinois.
Her first three seasons rank first, fourth and seventh in all-time points in season. She enters the season with the highest scoring average in a career in the state at 35.4 points per game, and at her 47.4 clip this year, that will only go up. Not counting this year’s baskets, she’s fourth in made field goals in a career, and she holds the record for made field goals in a season with 445.
“I don’t really pay attention to how many points I score,” she said. “I just do whatever I can to help my team win. That’s what matters to me most.”
At 5-foot-7, she knows that the biggest thing she needs to work on before coming to IU next year is her physicality and her strength. She said she’s been lifting more and that she worked on that the most during the summer.
But she’s also added a mid-range jumper to her repertoire that she has incorporated this year.
Now, she said, it’s becoming even easier for her to find open looks.
Buss finished her game Saturday with a new career-high 66 points on her already historic day. That point total is the seventh highest scoring output in a single game in Illinois high school girls’ basketball history.
In her last game before that, she poured in 60, which was a new career-high.
But despite all the fanfare and pictures after Saturday’s game, it wasn’t the perfect ending for Buss. Her team lost to Jackie Young and Princeton, 84-82.
“Kinda heartbroken that we didn’t win that game,” Buss said. “But we did play our hearts out.”
IU head coach Curt Miller waited for her after the game. He gave her a hug, but then had to head out. His team had to play at Xavier the next day.
He had been there last year to see Buss eclipse 3,000 points.
“For him to be there this year to actually break the record, it really meant a lot to me,” Buss said. “I told him that and he knows that.”
He sent her a text later. He told her to keep her head up after the loss and that he was proud of her.
It was texts like that that made Buss decide to come to IU.
“They’re not only great coaches, they’re great people also,” she said. “It’s just like one big family there and that’s what I want to be part of.”
When Buss committed to IU on Nov. 21, 2012, there were just small signs of life that the program was going to turn around under Miller.
But he had promised her he was going to turn the program around. She believed him.
The IU women’s basketball team is now the only undefeated women’s Big Ten team heading into conference play and is off to the best start in program history, a perfect 13-0.
“So far he’s proved himself right,” she said. “I’m pretty excited for next year.”