ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — Former Baltimore-area basketball standouts Asya Bussie and Jess Harlee have joined forces at the college ranks but had to come all the way down to the Caribbean to re-kindle an old high school rivalry on the basketball court.
Seton Keough’s Bussie, now a sophomore center, and Fallston’s Harlee, a freshman combo player, have each seen significant playing time with the West Virginia University women’s basketball team.
The No. 10 Mountaineers competed in the 11th annual Paradise Jam tournament last week on St. Thomas as the Baltimore duo helped lead WVU to a 3-0 record and the tournament’s Island Division title. Along the way, the Mountaineers went up against Virginia and former Arundel center Simone Egwu.
“In high school, we used to go up against her every year,” said Bussie, who played a significant role for Seton Keough during multiple IAAM A Conference championship appearances. “During my senior year, we played on the same AAU team so this was like a little reunion.”
Bussie won the battle in the paint against Egwu as WVU went on to win, 57-43. The next day, the Mountaineers edged No. 19 Iowa State, 64-53, to secure the division title.
As a freshman during the 2009-10 season, Bussie started for the Mountaineers and averaged over 10 points a game. She has returned as the starting center and while she hasn’t found her scoring touch yet, she has worked hard under the boards.
“It definitely was a big transition from high school to college,” said Bussie, who is scoring 6.9 points and and pulling down 4.6 rebounds this season for the 8-0 Mountaineers. “I learned a lot my freshman year and I’m continuing to work. I want to improve all around.”
Bussie also said a big goal for the team is to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. With Bussie in the lineup last year, the Mountaineers registered a record 29 wins but fell in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
Known for her hustle and tenacious pursuit of loose balls, Harlee was the centerpiece to several runs to the state championship for Fallston. So far as a freshman, she has been coming off the bench for WVU and doing what she does best.
“I still go after all those loose balls and dive after them,” said Harlee, who has seen action in seven of WVU’s eight games this season.
The pair met briefly during their basketball careers in Baltimore but have come closer as college teammates. WVU coach Mike Carey said both players have stepped up their game as he hopes they continue to improve.
“Well, Asya came in as a freshman and started for us and Jess just plays extremely hard,” said Carey, who also has two more recruits coming in next season from the Baltimore area. “Last year, one of the key components was Asya Bussie — no doubt about that. She plays great defense on the post and gives us someone inside who can score.
“Jess is one of leaders on defense. She’s a scrapper and she hustles. She always comes up with a big steal or a big rebound and we need that in our system … we need to shut people down and Jess does that for us.”
Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 340-774-8772 ext. 352 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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